KEMMERER — After pleading guilty Monday to first-degree murder and kidnapping for last year’s killing of a Utah man, Lincoln County inmate Dereck “DJ” Harrison next faces sentencing in Kemmerer on May 17.
During his arraignment Monday, Harrison told Third District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel he and his father, Flint Harrison, kidnapped Utah Transit Authority (UTA) employee Kay Ricks, 63, in his truck from a location near Salt Lake City as they evaded police investigating an assault in Centerville, Utah.
After turning themselves in during a Sublette County manhunt, they were charged for the Utah incident — but Flint Harrison killed himself before that court process, leaving his son to stand alone for the Utah sentencing and the Wyoming charges for Ricks’ murder.
They include first-degree murder with premeditation and malice, first-degree murder while perpetrating a kidnapping, kidnapping, and wrongful taking of property, court records show.
On Monday, Judge Bluemel asked Harrison if he wanted to change his mind about waiving his pretrial conference to make his plea; he said, “No, your honor, I’ll stand by my waive.”
After the judge read the charges against Harrison, Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred presented Bluemel with a written plea agreement made with Harrison to avoid Wyoming’s death penalty, one of two sentencing options for Harrison.
“We will not be seeking the death penalty,” Allred said, explaining Harrison agreed to plead guilty to murder and kidnapping and the prosecution sought a life sentence without parole for the murder charge, along with 20 to 22 years on the kidnapping charge.
Harrison said he made the plea agreement voluntarily and to establish his guilt, related what occurred as the Utah manhunt mounted.
The pair had fled with Ricks into Wyoming before law enforcement connected the missing man with them. Ricks’ body and his truck were not found until after father and son turned themselves in as a Sublette County search intensified.
He said they spent the first night at a Ramada Inn in Utah and the second night in a power station parking lot near a UTA station, and woke up looking for a vehicle to steal.
“My dad saw the UTA vehicles and we took off from there,” Harrison said Monday.
They waited for someone to show up; that turned out to be Ricks. Flint Harrison asked Ricks for help with his phone, his son jumped in the passenger seat, and as Ricks tried to drive away, they pushed him out, tied his hands, and put him in the back seat.
They then argued about where to go, with Flint wanting to head for his rural Pinedale home, saying, “We can live off the land there.”
DJ wanted to hide with friends in Utah, he told the judge. But they drove on I-80 toward Wyoming.
“We knew they would be looking for the truck so we got off the highway before the port of entry,” he said. They took a dirt road from Evanston U.S. Highway 191, with Ricks silent although he was not gagged, he added.
At the Carter cutoff, he said, “We decided we would drop (Ricks) off so we wouldn’t have to deal with him.”
“… We pulled over on a dirt road near (Cumberland Bridge). It was getting dark and cold. I went back to the truck to get (Ricks’) jacket. When I turned around my dad was cutting his throat. I then got into a fight with my dad. I was freaking out.”
Then Ricks began to run toward the river and DJ caught up to him in the water, he said. His father had gone back to the truck and returned with an iron bar, hit Ricks four or five times and “then we pulled him onto the shore.”
Harrison told Judge Bluemel that Ricks was not responsive. “We wanted to leave him where no one could find him, like in the bushes or something.”
Both were under the influence of meth, perhaps for days, when the initial assault in Utah occurred, according to court records. Harrison said Monday he believed Ricks was dead and that he washed off blood and his father spray-painted over the UTA truck logo. They drove toward Kemmerer, stopped at the Arctic Circle and bought cigarettes before arriving late at Flint’s home between Pinedale and Fremont Lake with the plan to hide out and hunt for food.
DJ slept in the truck as his father went inside the home, returning with two backpacks and three guns — a 9-mm, a .300 Winchester, and a 10/22 Ruger rifle — as well as warm clothes and ammunition, he told the judge.
They drove to White Pine to “dump the truck” and burned their clothes. They disconnected the truck battery to disable the GPS and hiked “over the mountain” to Half Moon Lake. The guns were not to battle law enforcement but “to hunt for meat,” DJ Harrison said in court on Monday.
He said they were going to try to get back to Utah and hide out in the southern part of the state because searchers were now looking for them in Sublette County. They set up camp and in the morning, Flint was gone — having hiked out to the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office to turn himself in.
DJ said he went back to sleep but woke up hearing a helicopter overhead.
“I juked and dodged for a bit. Then I ditched my gun and gear and walked to the road and gave myself up (to law enforcement).”
After turning themselves in and being taken into custody, they would not speak about how they made their way from Utah to Pinedale. The multi-agency search continued and Ricks’ truck was found abandoned in the trees at Kelly Park.
Then on May 17, 2016, Lincoln County officers found Ricks’ body and charges were filed against both Harrisons that included first-degree murder with premeditation and malice, first-degree murder while perpetrating a kidnapping, kidnapping and wrongful taking of property, court records show.
Harrison was not extradited to Lincoln County until after he faced the Utah assault charges and was sentenced there — alone. Flint Harrison hanged himself while they were in a Davis County (Utah) jail.
Monday, Judge Bluemel ordered a presentence investigation and set Harrison’s sentencing hearing for May 17, in the Kemmerer courtroom.