KEMMERER, Wyo. — Dereck James “DJ” Harrison pleaded guilty Monday to murdering Utah Transit Authority employee Kay Ricks and dumping his body in a remote area of Wyoming last year.
But in doing so, Harrison put most of the blame on his deceased father, Flint Wayne Harrison, 51, saying that his father was the one who killed Ricks, 63, and that he thought they were going to let him go in Wyoming.
"When I turned around, my father was cutting his throat," Harrison said in a Wyoming courtroom Monday.
But Ricks' friend, and the spokesman for the Ricks family, became angry when he listened to Harrison blame his father for the brutal murder.
"I believe (DJ) had everything to do with the murder, and at any point could have convinced his father of another option," Richard Massey said outside of court.
By pleading guilty, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty as part of a deal announced Monday. Harrison will be sentenced May 17. At that time, a judge will announce whether he accepts the plea agreement. He is expected to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Harrison pleaded guilty Monday to killing Ricks during the commission of a kidnapping, and to a second charge of confining him for the purpose of taking his truck. Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred said that as part of the plea agreement, Harrison had to recount in court Monday what happened from the time the Harrisons left the scene of a kidnapping in Centerville to the time they were arrested in Wyoming.
Harrison, 23, is already serving up to a life prison sentence in Utah for kidnapping a Clinton woman and her four daughters, an incident that started the crime spree that police say ended with the kidnapping and murder of Ricks.
Harrison and his father lured the woman and her daughters — ages 13, 15, 17 and 18 — to a Centerville house on May 10 under the guise of having a barbecue. Once there, the Harrisons attacked the women and tied them up. The girls fought back and the younger ones broke free and ran for help.
Harrison said Monday he and his father spent the first night on the run in a Ramada Inn. The next day, they went to Salt Lake City and "walked around town all night looking for vehicles" to steal, but without success. After sleeping near UTA's Ballpark Station, 180 W. 1300 South, Harrison said his father spotted Ricks' UTA vehicle and decided to take it.
Ricks tried to drive off. But Harrison said he helped his father push Ricks out of the truck and onto the ground where Flint Harrison tied Ricks' hands behind his back. They then put Ricks into the cab of his UTA truck.
Harrison told the judge that he and his father fought about where to go next. His father wanted to drive to his home in Pinedale, Wyoming, while he said he wanted to go back to Davis County. They actually made U-turns on the freeway three or four times as they argued about where to go, Harrison said. Eventually, his father won and they started driving toward Pinedale.
Harrison said they took Weber Canyon and then a dirt road before reaching Evanston, Wyoming, so they wouldn't be seen crossing the port of entry. Harrison said he was under the influence of a lot of drugs at the time.
The father and son drove to a rural area off state Route 189 outside Kemmerer, Wyoming. Harrison said he thought they were going to let Ricks go at that point. He testified that after Ricks was taken out of the truck, he went back to get the man's coat so he wouldn't be cold. But when Harrison turned around, he said his father was cutting Ricks' throat.
Harrison claimed his father acted without ever talking to him. He said he and the elder Harrison then got into a fight about what was happening. It was at that point that they heard splashing water and turned to see Ricks trying to run away. Harrison said his father then grabbed a metal bar from the back of the UTA truck and smashed Ricks' head four or five times.
After helping pull Ricks' body into nearby sagebrush, Harrison said, "I was done. So I ran back to the truck so we could leave."
Police and prosecutors say Ricks was brutally killed over an 18-minute period.
While Harrison said Monday that his father was the one who killed Ricks, he admitted that he did not do anything to prevent it.
After murdering Ricks and dumping his body, the Harrisons went to Flint's home in Pinedale where they got supplies to live off the land. Harrison said Monday they had planned to go back to Utah and then head south.
A five-day manhunt for the Harrisons ended when both were arrested in the Half Moon Lake area near Pinedale. Harrison said when he awoke to the sounds of a police helicopter over his head, he walked down to the main road knowing that he would be found and was arrested.
Flint Harrison killed himself July 25 while being held in the Davis County Jail.
DJ Harrison pleaded guilty in the Centerville kidnapping case to five counts of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed 11 other assault, weapons and drug charges.
Allred said Monday he was "very satisfied" with the plea deal in the Wyoming case, noting that it took "months and months of work" to reach that point.
As for what culpability each of the Harrisons held, Allred believes Flint Harrison was the main player, though he never admitted guilt before his death.
"I do believe Mr. Flint Harrison, his father, was the main perpetrator in this. However, I would not say Dereck Harrison had nothing to do with this. He certainly participated and helped in this process,” Allred said.
But Massey wasn't happy as he listened to Harrison describe the last moments of his friend's life.
"You always have the empty chair defense when something like that happens. You can always point to the empty chair and say, ‘Well, he did it.' And that’s kind of what DJ did today. ‘Dad did this, and did this and Dad did this and I didn’t do this.’ Luckily, the law doesn’t take into account any of that because he was there and it happened and he was part of it,” Massey said.
"DJ saying, 'I wanted to give him his jacket because he was cold' We’ll just leave that for what it is. If you’re trying to give a jacket to somebody that’s cold, it doesn’t end up on top of sagebrush.
"I do not believe one bit that the Earth is flat. And I also do not believe that DJ had nothing to do with this, but that he was full part and parcel in the actions that occurred. And he can say he tried to get Dad to do something else all he wants. But the record is the record," Massey said.
"He was there when a man was murdered and did absolutely nothing about it.”
Massey said he wished Flint Harrison had faced his charges in court, too.
"He took a safe, I would say safe and cowardice way out by committing suicide. And the ultimate act of selfishness was leaving his son to answer for everything,” he said.4 comments on this story
This ordeal, Massey said, has been "as difficult as you can imagine" for Ricks' family. His wife still won't come out of her house, he said. And "her grandchildren are still scared at night that the bad men who came to get Grandpa will come to get them."
"They are still hemorrhaging inside emotionally. And it is extremely difficult for them," he added. "But it is one of the gifts that we're getting out of this tragedy that there is not going to be a trial, and the family is so, so grateful for that."
A pre-sentence report was ordered to be completed before May 17. The judge has the option of accepting or rejecting the plea deal. Allred, however, said the eight-page agreement is very detailed and he doesn't anticipate any problems in May.