CITRONELLE, Ala. (AP) — A man accused of slaying five people at an Alabama home brought an ax to attack his victims, striking one who had been sleeping in a reclining chair, and also used guns he took from the house to shoot them, an Alabama sheriff said Tuesday.
Derrick Dearman entered the house in Citronelle before dawn Saturday, Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran told The Associated Press.
"They were down for the night sleeping, and he had enough familiarity with the house when he entered — I guess you could say in a rage — and he's disabling people as he's in there," Cochran said. "He was able to overpower them before they were able to protect themselves."
An ax and a gun were used in the killings of each of the five adult victims, police allege in criminal complaints filed Tuesday in Mobile County District Court.
On Monday, as Dearman was led to jail in shackles, he professed his love for the estranged girlfriend whose family and friends were massacred and blamed the killings on drugs.
Speaking with reporters as he was escorted to jail by deputies in Mobile, Alabama, Derrick Dearman said Monday that he was on methamphetamine when he went to the house, on a dead-end dirt road.
"Drugs (were) making me think things that's not really there," said Dearman, 27, hanging his head and dressed in a bright yellow jail uniform.
After the killings, authorities said, Dearman abducted estranged girlfriend Laneta Lester, who had sought refuge at the house, and a child of two of the victims. Dearman said he spared their lives because "I came down and realized what was really going on."
"(I) turned myself in because I was sober and knew what was the right thing to do," Dearman said.
In videotaped comments broadcast on Mobile-area television, Dearman expressed his love for Lester and apologized "to all the family members." Dearman, saying all the victims were friends, added: "Don't do drugs."
A man who said his family provided a home for Dearman and Lester earlier this year near Leakesville, Mississippi, said Dearman was often on methamphetamine and physically abused Lester during walks in the woods in rural southeast Mississippi.
"He was taking her out there and beating the crap out of her," said Charlie Passarelli Jr., who said he had known Dearman for years. Passarelli said he suspected that Dearman was either buying or selling drugs before he and Lester moved out in late spring.
The slaying victims included a pregnant woman and her unborn child. A teenager who said she was related to all five victims by marriage or blood shook her head and fought back tears as she described her anguish over the slayings.
"They were really good people. They'd call and check on you, ask if you want to come down and eat," said Madison McDaniel, 17, who lives near the scene of the violence.
They had also become targets by welcoming Dearman's ex-girlfriend into the home, the sheriff said.
"I think the motivation was that he felt like they were keeping her from him," Cochran said.
"He couldn't deal with her being away from him and accept that she was leaving him," he said. "They were what was standing between them."
Relatives of the victims started an online fundraiser to help cover funeral expenses, and clerk Dawn Sullivan collected donations in a plastic jug on the counter at D&B Quick Stop, where the victims often stopped for snacks and drinks.
"It's a sad situation. It never should have gotten to that point," said Sullivan, whose husband was related to one of the victims.
Dearman, of Leakesville, is charged with six counts of capital murder and two counts of kidnapping, including one charge for the unborn child, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said.
"At this time it appears it will be a death penalty case, but it's very early in the investigation," Rich said.
Dearman's first court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday morning. Alabama court records don't indicate whether he has an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
The slain were identified as Shannon Melissa Randall, 35; Joseph Adam Turner, 26; Justin Kaleb Reed, 23; Chelsea Marie Reed, 22; and Robert Lee Brown, 26, said Mobile County sheriff's spokeswoman Lori Myles.
Turner was Lester's brother and had let her stay at the house, which all the victims shared, McDaniel said. Turner and Randall were married.
"I'd always get on my horse and ride down there bareback," McDaniel said. Her step-aunt Randall would say, "'Be careful because you're already got a hurt knee.' I'd say, 'OK, Shan-Shan.' That's what I called her."
Brown was Randall's brother, McDaniel said, and Chelsea Reed was Randall's niece. Chelsea Reed was pregnant with the child of her husband, Justin Reed, said McDaniel.
About 1 a.m. Saturday, someone inside the home called 911 and reported that Dearman was on the property, authorities said in a statement. Citronelle police came to the house, but Dearman had left before officers arrived, sheriff's officials said.
Before daylight Saturday, Dearman returned to the home to begin the attacks, the sheriff's department said.
After the killings, Dearman forced Lester and a 3-month-old identified by relatives as the child of Randall and Turner into a vehicle, and they drove to Dearman's father's house in Mississippi. Dearman released Lester and the infant and turned himself in, authorities said.
As he was led away to jail on Tuesday, Dearman said he barely remembers what happened but said that he deserves a harsh punishment.
"I deserve to die," he said.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Martin reported from Atlanta.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Charlie Passarelli Jr. said he suspected Dearman, not Lester, of being involved with drug activity.