Alabama man convicted of killing 5 people asks to be executed: ‘It’s the right thing to do’

Derrick Dearman says he wants to live.

The 35-year-old inmate on Alabama’s death row has spent almost six years fighting his sentence after being convicted of killing five people, including a woman who was pregnant. But now, he says he’s asked the state to execute him. It’s time, he says, for “justice to be delivered,” and “it’s the right thing to do.”

“I don’t want to die,” Dearman told CNN in a phone interview Friday from a prison in Atmore, Alabama. “But I feel it in my heart that this is the only option that would help the victims’ families get the closure they need to move forward.”

“I made peace with my decision.”

In the early morning hours on August 20, 2016, Dearman broke into a home in small-town Citronelle, Alabama, according to a sentencing order filed in the case. He made his way through the house, attacking five of the occupants one by one, using an ax, a .45 pistol and a shotgun.

Shannon Melissa Randall, Robert Lee Brown, Justin Kaleb Reed, Joseph Adam Turner and Chelsea Marie Reed, who was five months pregnant, were left dead. Dearman fled the scene, taking his sometime girlfriend and the infant son of two victims with him.

Dearman, who was born in Greene County, Mississippi, later turned himself in to authorities there.

He pleaded guilty to capital murder charges on August 31, 2018; a jury recommended the death penalty. Dearman’s parents both testified his “long-term drug abuse was the central problem in their son’s life,” according to his sentencing order.

Dearborn said he tried to appeal the sentence – but only for the sake of his family, who he said wanted him to fight for his life. “They have a right as my family, to try to be presented with opportunity to seek relief from the sentence that I was cast, because no father wants their son to die,” he told CNN.

“What they’ve seen was a drug addict, what they’ve seen was a man who literally wasn’t in his own mind, he was in a mental fetal position,” Dearman said. His first appeal was filed in October 2018, and he told his family he’d allow a few years of appeal attempts. In February, the Alabama Supreme Court denied a motion to appeal his sentence, upholding his convictions.

And now, about 5.5 years after his sentence, Dearman says the fight is over.

“It’s just time to do what I know is right and what I know I gotta do,” he said. “My family’s right was secured; now it’s time for the victims and their families to get what’s right to them and what they deserve and that’s for justice to be delivered.”

On April 4, Dearman said, he fired his attorneys with the Equal Justice Initiative who were representing him during the appeals process. Dearman told CNN he wrote letters to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the state’s attorney general, asking them to carry out his death sentence.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office received the letter, spokesperson Amanda Priest told CNN. CNN also contacted Angela Setzer, Dearman’s former attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative, for comment but did not receive a response.

It’s unknown whether or when Dearborn’s request might be fulfilled.

A ‘heinous’ attack awakened most victims

Dearman had been at the home on August 17 – three days before the murders – helping scrap a metal trailer but his behavior started to make at least one person at the home in Citronelle, about 30 miles north of the Gulf Coast city of Mobile, “uncomfortable,” according to the sentencing order.

Shannon Randall, who had a 3-month-old son, ultimately said she didn’t want Dearman staying “in the same home as her infant” but he could still work there.

He left and returned to a home he shared with his girlfriend in George County, Mississippi, about 15-minutes over the state line. Court records show he injected methamphetamine that evening and became abusive toward his girlfriend.

The next day, she fled.

Dearman returned to the home in Citronelle, hoping to speak to his girlfriend, and was told to leave. He came back three more times that evening, prompting Randall’s husband, Joseph Adam Turner, to call authorities.

Police patrolled outside the home but left around 3 a.m. when there was a shift change, the sentencing document notes.

Sometime in the early morning hours, Dearman returned a final time on foot. He later told investigators that he had used methamphetamine at some point before he entered the house.

He broke into the home, woke up his sleeping girlfriend and talked with her outside. Dearman, increasingly frustrated, refused to leave and “demanded she stay and talk to him,” the sentencing order says.

He left the home and returned later with an ax, which he’d pulled from a nearby tree.

Dearman made his way through the home, swinging the weapon on multiple sleeping occupants who were staying there. He used it on Turner and Randall, who had been sleeping in bed with their son. Dearman then managed to pry a .45 pistol from one of the victims and shot him. He also used a shotgun in the attack, the sentencing order says.

Court records note “after the initial attack was completed, the Defendant meticulously shot each victim to ensure death.”

He then left and ordered his girlfriend to go with him, taking the infant with them, the sentencing order says.

The order called the attack “especially heinous” and “atrocious,” noting each victim was conscious for a period of time after being brutally attacked.

Later that day, Dearman told his father what happened, and his father persuaded him to turn himself in to authorities.

The reality of the crimes Dearman committed began to settle in once he was behind bars and able to sleep, eat and get the drugs out of his system, he told CNN on Friday. From that point forward, he said he started “talking to God” and knew his life was the price he had to pay.

Dearman stressed his decision is “not for my own gain” and said he’s grappled with the idea of reaching out to the families of the victims but says he didn’t want to cause more pain. CNN attempted to reach the families of each of the victims.

“From my point of view, there’s nothing that I could ever say or do that will make this right. I feel like I personally have a debt for the crimes that I committed,” Dearman told CNN. “That’s the only way that I could ever show that I’m truly remorseful, that I truly do have a conscience.”

‘Who wants to look at death and say, “Come here”?’

Alabama has faced scrutiny over its executions of death row inmates after multiple failed lethal injections prompted an internal review of the state’s capital punishment system in 2022.

Gov. Ivey asked the state Department of Corrections to conduct a “top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process” after problems with multiple lethal injections came into the national spotlight, CNN previously reported. The state resumed executions last spring after the review was completed.

Dearman acknowledged some people might question whether he’s fully competent to make the decision to be executed, saying: “Yes, I’m confident I’m in my right mind. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be trying to think about the victims’ families and their feelings, my family and their feelings. I wouldn’t be trying to think about how people might view the death penalty.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, Dearman’s spiritual adviser, told CNN he was skeptical when Dearman first informed him of his decision and said he had “conflicting emotions” about getting involved in his case.

“Derrick has consistently expressed this is a spiritual decision for him and not a political decision or an activist decision,” Hood said. “In our conversations, that’s been an interesting dynamic. This is incredibly spiritual for him.”

The convicted killer said he’s against the death penalty “in nine out of 10 cases” and believes it’s widely misused – but he says it’s warranted in his case.

“Does it scare me? Of course,” Dearman told CNN. “I mean, who wants to look at death and say, ‘Come here’?”

“But I feel it in my heart that this is the only option that would help the victims’ families get the closure they need to move forward.”

CNN’s Sarah Dewberry contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at