FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) — A Utah man was sentenced Monday to 30 years to life in prison for tying up a family of five in a basement, clearing the way for him to face murder charges in Wyoming in the death of a train worker he is accused of kidnapping as he fled police.
Dereck James “DJ” Harrison, 23, is charged with forcing the rail employee into his work truck, then beating him to death on the way to a remote Wyoming hideout with his father. The elder Harrison killed himself in jail this summer.
The chain of events in May started when the father and son invited a woman and her four teenage daughters to a barbecue outside Salt Lake City, then restrained and beat them before they were able to escape, police said.
“You were considered a family friend,” the mother said to Dereck Harrison in court. “You knew us. You knew what family and friends meant to us because of our four girls.”
The Associated Press is not naming the mother to avoid identifying her children.
Harrison apologized in a brief statement and said his crimes were tied to a drug addiction.
“I’m so sorry for all the pain I’ve caused to all my victims,” he said.
The Harrisons had been using methamphetamine for days and wrongly thought the mother had reported them to police, authorities said. They also had talked about looking for a mother and daughter to party with, prosecutor Jeff Thomson said Monday, reading from text messages between the father and son.
The men planned the kidnapping, setting out zip ties, duct tape and a bag ready to put on the mother’s head, he said.
After the family escaped, the Harrisons went on the run. They snatched Kay Ricks, 63, from a light rail station and drove north toward the Wyoming town where Flint Harrison had been living, authorities said.
Police allege they brutally beat Ricks to death at a stop along the way. An exact motive has not been disclosed.
They were arrested in Wyoming after a dayslong manhunt that ended when Flint Harrison surrendered.
Thomson, the prosecutor, said that if the woman and her four daughters had not fought back and been able to escape, they could have been killed as well.
Dereck Harrison pleaded guilty last month to five counts of aggravated kidnapping and agreed not to fight extradition to Wyoming. In exchange, prosecutors dropped 11 other charges, including drug possession and assault.
The Wyoming case could carry the death penalty. Prosecutors are expected to decide whether to pursue it after Dereck Harrison arrives in the state.
He could be extradited within days, Wyoming prosecutor Spencer Allred said.
The Ricks family is relieved that Harrison will be facing murder charges. However, hearing the graphic details of Ricks’ death is difficult, family spokesman Richard Massey said.
“You just never get used to it,” he said.