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KEMMERER — Dereck James “DJ” Harrison, 23, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, with a consecutive sentence of no less than 20 and no more than 22 years for kidnapping. These sentences will be served consecutively with Harrison’s Utah sentence for kidnapping.
Harrison pled guilty on April 17, to charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping of Utah man Kay Ricks, 62.
“There’s been enough drama in this matter,” Third District Court Judge Joseph Bluemel said during Wednesday morning’s proceedings. “I will accept the plea agreement. There’s no reason for the court to draw this out.”
The sentencing, that took place in a tense courtroom in Kemmerer, was the conclusion of a bizarre and grisly murder case that captivated the Wyoming and Utah public.
Harrison’s father, Flint Harrison, hanged himself in a Utah jail last year before the court process for their trial could begin. The Harrisons were being held in Utah as suspects in a separate kidnapping — one involving a woman and her four young daughters. DJ Harrison later pled guilty to those charges before he was extradited to Wyoming to face charges here.
Prior to Judge Bluemel’s sentencing, Ricks family spokesperson Richard Massey addressed the court by reading letters from the Ricks family to Harrison.
Massey also thanked police and law enforcement officers who helped solve the case and bring justice to Harrison.
Massey first read a letter addressed to DJ Harrison from Ricks’ wife, Lori.
“We, the Ricks family, forgive you,” the letter read. “That doesn’t condone the act that took away my husband of 42 years, but you haven’t taken our hope away. We choose to be a strong family and continue as Kay would want us to. You could have stopped these horrible acts, but you didn’t. You and only you are responsible for your choices. The Ricks family will be fine, but you will live with those consequences.”
A letter from Ricks’ oldest son read, “Please make sure he knows my dad forgives him, and I’m working on forgiving him myself.”
Massey also read letters from Ricks’ grandchildren.
“I miss my grandpa,” one letter read. “I’m sad and mad that we don’t get to play with him anymore.”
Massey became emotional as he read a closing statement from the Ricks family: “All of us have a savior, even Jesus Christ. Hopefully you will find it in yourself to repent in this life. You are a child of God, and so are we. Please choose to put your family back together.”
Judge Bluemel gave two primary reasons for accepting the plea agreement, the first being the Ricks family’s desire to move on.
“The victim’s family have expressed need for closure. You have received one thing that perpetrators of crime don’t always receive, and that’s forgiveness,” Judge Bluemel said.
Bluemel acknowledged Harrison’s conduct throughout courtroom proceedings, including his willingness to plead guilty to his crimes, as another reason to accept the plea agreement.
“You admitted your wrongdoings. … I saw you tear up a few times, and I don’t think that was fake remorse,” Judge Bluemel said.
“Those statements from the judge touched my heart,” Massey said after the sentencing.
Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred addressed Judge Bluemel and the court.
“We find it interesting that this is the anniversary — one year ago today, 16 miles from this courtroom, Ricks’ body was found.”
Allred talked about Kay Ricks and the events of May 12, 2016, when Flint Harrison and his son DJ Harrison kidnapped Ricks outside of Salt Lake City, stole his UTA truck, and drove to Wyoming.
“Kay was helpful — he was always looking to help people,” Allred said. “I cannot imagine the thoughts and feelings in a man’s head as he is tied up in the back of his truck and driven for over two hours. I can’t imagine what he thought as the truck turned off onto a dirt road and he was forced out of the truck and onto his knees.”
Allred recapped the details of Harrison’s murder that took place off of a lonely dirt road outside of Kemmerer.
“This act was brutal, horrific, and very selfish on behalf of Flint and Dereck,” Allred said.
Allred recognized the plea agreement as fitting to Harrison’s actions.
“This plea agreement at least gives some satisfaction to the family,” Allred said. “They will be able to move on.”
DJ Harrison’s attorney, Ed Wall, read Harrison’s allocution after Allred’s statements because he said Harrison “couldn’t do it” following Massey’s reading of the letters from the Ricks family.
“Mr. Harrison cannot believe that this has happened in his life,” Wall said. “It wasn’t in line with how he lived his life. His heart goes out to the family. He regrets it deeply. He wishes he had more control during the incident; parts of it he had blocked out because of the influence of drugs, and he wishes he hadn’t lost his ability to objectively see the consequences of his actions.”
Wall also said that DJ “wants the Ricks family to know that Kay was brave, strong, and courageous.”
Harrison will serve 30 years to life in Utah. His Utah sentence is comprised of three 15-years to-life sentences to run concurrently, along with another 15-years-to-life sentence to run consecutively. He’ll then serve life in a Wyoming prison without parole for his role in Ricks’ death, and 20 years in Wyoming for kidnapping Ricks. Those sentences are to run consecutively.