DJ Harrison takes plea deal, pleads guilty to murder and kidnapping

Posted at 6:09 PM, Apr 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-17 20:46:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah man who helped kill a Utah Transit Authority worker in Wyoming last year told the court on Monday what unfolded when he and his father kidnapped and murdered Kay Ricks.

Up until now, Dereck Harrison had never recounted the story in court. Investigators had pieced the details together from evidence.

He agreed to a plea deal, that called for him to state the facts of the case, and plead guilty to one count of Murder in the First Degree and one count of Kidnapping.

Harrison originally also faced one other count of Murder in the First Degree as well as one county of Wrongful Taking or Disposing of Property.

The plea deal, announced in court on Monday, also called for Harrison to spend life in prison without parole on the murder charge and 20 to 22 years on the kidnapping charge, instead of facing the death penalty. Those sentences would run at the same time.

The bizarre and disturbing case goes back to May of last year when Dereck and his father Flint Harrison kidnapped and assaulted five people in Centerville.

The two ran from police, stole a UTA work truck and kidnapped Kay Ricks, then killed him in Wyoming.

A man hunt ensued in the woods near Pinedale, WY which ended with Flint turning himself in, followed by Dereck.

Flint Harrison later committed suicide in jail.

After striking a plea deal in Utah for the kidnapping and assault, which called for a 30-years to life sentence, Dereck was extradited to Lincoln County, Wyoming to face charges in Ricks' death.

Under oath on Monday afternoon, the now 23-year old recounted the moments he and his father kidnapped, then later killed Ricks.

But before he did so, Harrison said he had, "a big, blackout memory until two days later," and claimed that he was high on drugs.

He and his father were on the run from the original kidnapping and assault in Centerville, and Harrison said he and his father, "walked around town all night" to look for cars to steal, so the pair could drive to Wyoming.

Flint and his wife, Dereck's step mother, lived in a house in Pinedale, WY.

Harrison said he and Flint ended up sleeping by a power station, and later when they spotted the UTA truck, they made the decision to steal that vehicle.

They approached the truck, driven by Kay Ricks, and pretended to need help with a cell phone, Harrison explained.

Dereck said he pushed Ricks out of the driver seat and prevented Ricks from driving off by pushing his knee down onto the brake and throwing the vehicle into park.

The father and son tied Ricks' hands and forced him into the cab of the truck, and Harrison said Flint got into the driver's seat while he sat on the passenger side.

Harrison said he and his dad argued about heading toward Wyoming and turned around several times before eventually taking Weber Canyon toward Evanston.

During the drive, Harrison said Ricks stayed quiet, with his hands tied behind his back.

Once they made it to Wyoming, Harrison said they avoided the port of entry by taking a dirt road that eventually connected with the highway toward Kemmerer, WY.

Before hitting town, Harrison said Flint took a turn off the highway.

They ended up on a dirt road near an old bridge, and Harrison said they planned to drop Ricks off alive because it was getting dark and it would take Ricks some time to find help.

As they walked back to the truck, Harrison said, Flint turned around and cut Ricks' throat.

At that point, Harrison said he and his father began to fight and argue over Ricks.

In the meantime, he said Ricks was running away and they could hear him splashing in the water under the bridge.

Dereck followed Ricks to stop him, he said, and Flint hit Ricks with an iron bar from the truck four or five times, killing him.

They pulled his body up onto the bank, attempted to spray paint over the truck's UTA logos to conceal it, and left for Pinedale, WY.

Harrison said at the time, he was on "a lot of drugs," and that he didn't know what was happening when his father pulled off the highway, or say anything to stop it.

They drove to Flint's house in Pinedale, where Dereck said his step-mother was home.

He said Flint spent two hours gathering guns, ammo and supplies so they could camp out in the wilderness.

They took off in the dark, ditched the truck in the woods near Half Moon Lake outside of Pinedale, and hiked and camped.

After another day, Flint left Dereck and turned himself in while Dereck was sleeping.

Dereck said he awoke the next day and saw a helicopter overhead and, "I realized I wasn't going to get away from this. It was all going down."

Harrison turned himself in later that night.

He blamed much of the crime on his father, and Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred said the story Harrison told matches up with evidence.

"We do believe that Mr. Flint Harrison, his father, was the main perpetrator in this," Allred said.

Ricks family spokesperson Richard Massey said they think Dereck is just as guilty.

"He was there when a man was murdered, and did absolutely nothing about it," Massey said.

He got emotional in court as he heard Harrison recounting each detail.

"It is difficult to hear," he said, after the hearing. "It is heart-wrenching to know what the last moments of Kay must have been like, after hearing his face was smashed in with a bar four or five times."

He added that Harrison left something out of his account-- that investigators had said they found evidence of defense wounds on DJ and Flint Harrison.

"They told us that in their estimation, Kay had fought hard," Massey said.

Massey said the Ricks family agreed with the plea deal.

"He is a brutal, careless, reckless murderer, and took the life of a good, loving husband, father and grandfather ," Massey said.

In addition to the guilty pleas and proposed prison time, the plea deal calls for Harrison to pay $15,730.30 in restitution.

A judge will decide whether to accept the plea deal at the sentencing on May 17.