KEMMERER, Wyo. (AP) — A 23-year-old man avoided facing the death penalty by pleading guilty to kidnapping and killing a Utah train worker in Wyoming.
Dereck James Harrison entered his plea Monday during his arraignment in District Court in Kemmerer.
Harrison pleaded guilty to first-degree murder while perpetrating a kidnapping and kidnapping in the May slaying of Kay Porter Ricks, 63, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2oFRacD).
Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for Harrison’s guilty plea. Sentencing has been scheduled for May 17.
Harrison already is serving at least 30 years in a Utah prison after pleading guilty last year to tying up a woman and her four daughters in a basement.
After that, he and his father snatched and killed a train worker while on the run from police, prosecutors said.
His father, Flint Harrison, killed himself in jail last July.
Dereck Harrison put most of the blame for Ricks’ killing on his father, saying that his father was the one who killed Ricks and that he thought they were going to let Ricks free in Wyoming, The Deseret News reported (http://bit.ly/2oiyEX3 ).
Harrison told District Judge Joseph Bluemel that his father cut Ricks’ throat.
Harrison said he then scuffled with his father and argued with him before Flint Harrison hit Ricks four to five times in the head with a metal rod.
“You didn’t defend Mr. Ricks?” the judge asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Harrison replied.
Dereck Harrison had been charged in Wyoming with four counts: murder in the first degree with premeditation and malice, murder in the first degree while perpetrating a kidnapping, kidnapping, and wrongful taking or disposing of property. Two counts were dropped in the plea deal.
Authorities have said that the Harrisons kidnapped Ricks from a Salt Lake City TRAX stop where he was working and drove Ricks’ truck to a rural area outside Kemmerer in southwest Wyoming and killed him. Ricks’ body was left in sage brush off a dirt road.
After a five-day manhunt, the Harrisons were arrested at a remote hideout near the small town of Pinedale.
The whole episode stemmed from drugs, police said. The Harrisons had been using methamphetamine for days and wrongly thought the woman they kidnapped had reported them to police. So they kidnapped her and her daughters.
However, the family escaped from the two, prompting the Harrisons to flee and setting up their encounter with Ricks.