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Utah man gets life without parole sentence for UTA worker’s death

First Published      Last Updated Jun 14 2017 06:57 pm

Kemmerer, Wyo. • In a letter read aloud at a sentencing hearing for Dereck James "DJ" Harrison on Wednesday, Lorie Ricks forgave the man who played a role in killing her husband last year.

She would forgive, she wrote, so their family could move forward with healing after Kay Porter Ricks' life came to a violent end after he was kidnapped and killed by Harrison and his father.

But while she forgave, she reminded the 23-year-old defendant that he had no one to blame but himself for the choices he made May 12, 2016.

He chose to take drugs with his father, chose to kidnap a Centerville family and chose to flee from authorities. And he chose to abduct Ricks, a Utah Transit Authority worker, from his work station to steal his truck.




And his choices continued: He chose to stay with his father as they drove on a remote Wyoming road. He chose to stand by as his father slit Rick's throat. He then chose to help restrain the victim as his father beat the man to death with a metal rod.

"You chose to stay," Lorie Ricks wrote in her letter. "… You could have stopped at any point and said, 'No, this isn't right.' "

And on Wednesday, Harrison's choices led him to a Wyoming courtroom, where a judge sentenced him to spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes.

Third District Judge Joseph Bluemel said Wednesday that he would accept a plea deal and Harrison's guilty pleas to murder and kidnapping. He then ordered the man to spend life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus another term of 20 to 22 years for the kidnapping charge. He ordered the sentences to run consecutive to a Utah prison term Harrison is serving for his role in kidnapping a Centerville family.

When Harrison pleaded guilty to the crimes in Wyoming last month, he blamed his father, Flint Harrison, for much of the violence, and he said it was his father's idea to steal Ricks' work truck. Flint Harrison hanged himself in a Davis County jail cell in July.

The younger Harrison had planned to make a statement in court Wednesday, his attorney told the judge, but he ultimately did not read it aloud. He said he could not read the words he wrote after hearing statements from Ricks' family read by the family's spokesman, Richard Massey, including a plea from Ricks' son that he someday offer an apology only if it was sincere. Tears welled in Harrison's eyes as Massey told him that he was "a child of God," who now has the choice to change his life and repent for his wrongdoings.

Defense attorney Edwin Wall told the judge that Harrison would have apologized for his role in Ricks' death.

"He regrets it deeply," Wall said. "He wishes he had more control at that time."

Wall said his client also wanted Ricks' family to know that he was "solid," and that through the terrifying encounter, he remained "brave," "strong" and "courageous."

Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred said that Wednesday's sentencing was what Ricks' family wanted: the case to be closed without a trial and without Harrison ever having the chance to go free again.

Allred said prosecutors did not believe the younger Harrison was the main actor in Ricks' kidnapping and death, which prompted them to not seek the death penalty against the 23-year-old. They would have sought Flint Harrison's execution, had he not committed suicide, the county attorney said.

DJ Harrison will be moved back to the Utah State Prison as quickly as possible, Allred said, so he can continue to serve a 30-year-to-life sentence for kidnapping a Centerville family the day before Ricks' abduction. It's unclear how long Harrison will remain in Utah, but Allred said the defendant will likely be transferred to the Wyoming prison someday.

jmiller@sltrib.com

 

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