2016 Citronelle homicides

A mass killing on August 20, 2016, in Citronelle, Alabama, resulted in the deaths of five people, including a woman who was five months pregnant. They were killed in the early morning in a private residence in a rural area west of the city. It was owned by a brother of Laneta Lester, who had sought refuge there. She and her brother's infant were abducted and taken to Leakesville, Mississippi, by her estranged boyfriend, Derrick Dearman. He released her that day. Lester returned with the infant to Citronelle. She notified police of the killings. Investigators described this mass killing as the worst in Mobile County's history. The house burned down a couple of weeks after the crime.

Citronelle homicides
LocationCitronelle, Alabama, United States
DateAugust 20, 2016 (2016-08-20)
4:10 a.m. (CT)
Attack type
Mass killing
  • Axe
  • Firearms
Deaths6 (including a fetus)
PerpetratorDerrick Dearman
MotiveUnder investigation

Dearman was considered a suspect. He was arrested after he turned himself in at the Greene County, Mississippi police station. He was extradited to Alabama, where he was charged with six counts of capital murder (including the fetus, under Alabama law) and two counts of abduction. Initially he pleaded not guilty to the charges. In September 2018 he pleaded guilty to the capital murder charges. He still had to face a jury trial, which convicted him of the murders and kidnappings, and sentenced him to death. The court upheld the sentence.


In the early morning of August 20, 2016, a male assailant entered a residence in the 1700 block of Jim Platt Road about 4 a.m., in a rural area west of Citronelle. He killed five persons who were sleeping, including two married couples, one including a woman who was five months pregnant. He used a variety of weapons, including an axe and guns.[1] He kidnapped Laneta Lester, his estranged girlfriend, and an infant of her brother and his wife;[2] he took them with him to his father's house in Leakesville, Mississippi, about 30 miles to the west. Later he released them.

Lester returned to Citronelle with the infant, where she went to the police department and notified authorities about the killings.[1] She said she had been abducted by her estranged boyfriend, Derrick Dearman, and that he had killed the people at the house. The police found the five bodies at the crime scene. They said it would take time to process the crime scene. Initial reports said Lester had escaped from Dearman, but she and the infant were reportedly released by him.[3][4][1][5][6][7]

Investigators said that residents had made a 9-1-1 call from the house about 1 a.m., a few hours before the killings, and reported that Derrick Dearman was on the property. Officers responded to the house, but found no evidence of him on the wooded grounds and left.[5] Investigators initially believed the attacker had used an ax and several firearms that were in the house in the attack, and that the killings were committed in the process of an attempted burglary or abduction.[8][9] Police found two firearms and a "bladed weapon" at the house.[10] The attack was described as the worst mass killing in the history of Mobile County.[11]

Victims and perpetratorEdit


The deceased victims shared the house where the homicides took place. It was owned by Lester's married brother, Joseph Adam Turner, who lived there with his wife.[12] Lester was said to have gone there seeking refuge from her ex-boyfriend, Derrick Dearman, who lived in Mississippi. Lester's brother Joseph and his wife were both among the homicide victims. The other three adult victims sharing the house included another married couple, of which the woman was five months pregnant.[7][12]

The victims were named as:[7][13]

  • Joseph Adam Turner, 26, Lester's brother[12]
  • Shannon Melissa Randall, 35, Turner's wife[12]
  • Robert Lee Brown, 26
  • Justin Kaleb Reed, 23
  • Chelsea Marie Reed, 22, Justin's wife, who was five months pregnant[14]


After Lester had notified police, a suspect, identified as 27-year-old Derrick Dearman, turned himself in to police in his hometown of Leakesville, Mississippi, located about 30 miles (48 km) to the west of Citronelle.[5] He reportedly surrendered after his father convinced him to do so.[15] Dearman was the estranged boyfriend of Laneta Lester. She had left him due to an allegedly abusive relationship and gone to Citronelle to her brother's house, seeking shelter with him.[7] The former wife of Dearman described him as having "a temper, especially when he doesn't get his way".[7] He had two children from his marriage. In Mississippi, he had accumulated an extensive criminal record.

Alabama quickly extradited Dearman to Citronelle under charges associated with the killings.

Legal proceedingsEdit

On August 22, Dearman was extradited to Mobile, Alabama, to face trial.[16] While being escorted to an administrative building, he reportedly said, "Don't do drugs", apologized, and said he turned himself in after realizing what he had done. He later apologized to Lester by name and described the victims as friends.[15][2] The following day, he said he was on methamphetamine at the time of the killings, and blamed the influence of the drug on the killings.[12]

On August 31, 2016, Dearman was charged with six counts of capital murder (one charge for Chelsea Reed's fetus, under Alabama's fetal homicide law[17]) and two counts of abduction. He pleaded not guilty to all of the counts.[7][8] It was classified as capital murder first, because it was associated with attempted burglary, and secondly, because two or more persons were killed in commission of the same crime.[18]

A couple of weeks after the murders, the Turner house burned down.[2]

Dearman was assigned two court-appointed defense attorneys. In mid-August 2017, Circuit Judge Rick Stout, at the request of the state, ordered Dearman to receive a mental evaluation, to be completed by the state of Alabama. It was intended to cover three topics: Dearman's competency to stand trial, his mental capacity at the time of the crimes, and his intelligence quotient (IQ). Around this time, one of his attorneys resigned from the case. Dearman objected to having his IQ and competency tested, as he had not made a plea related to either. He tried to establish limits to such testing, but the court denied the motion. The judge was to receive the results of the testing and review them before sharing with the prosecutor and defense.[19]

In September 2018, Dearman pleaded guilty to the charges of capital murder and kidnapping.[20][21] Under Alabama law, because of the capital murder charges, he was still subject to a jury trial, with the potential of receiving a death sentence. He had fired his two court-appointed attorneys before entering his plea. The judge ruled that he was fit to stand trial.[22][23]

At the jury trial, Dearman was found guilty on the six capital murder charges and first-degree kidnapping counts, and the jury approved the death sentence. This was affirmed by the court on October 12, 2018, and Dearman was sentenced to death for these murders.[24]


  1. ^ a b c Edgemon, Erin (August 20, 2016). "5 dead, including pregnant woman, in south Alabama mass homicide". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Associated Press (August 22, 2016). "Suspect in deaths of 5 in Alabama blames drugs for slaughter". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  3. ^ Sharp, John (August 22, 2016). "Citronelle mayor: City is in 'shock' following murders". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  4. ^ "5 dead in 'gruesome' murders in Citronelle, Alabama". BNO News. August 21, 2016. Retrieved September 1, 2016.[dead link]
  5. ^ a b c Specker, Lawrence (August 21, 2016). "'Horrific' Citronelle murders of 5 may take days to decipher, authorities say". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  6. ^ Hrynkiw, Ivana (August 21, 2016). "Citronelle slaying victims identified, suspect charged with six counts of murder". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Hrynkiw, Ivana (August 22, 2016). "Citronelle quintuple homicide: What we know Monday". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Specker, Lawrence (August 31, 2016). "Derrick Dearman pleads not guilty in Citronelle mass murder". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Latest: 'Several' firearms, ax used in Alabama killings". Santa Cruz Sentinel. August 24, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  10. ^ Sharp, John (August 23, 2016). "Accused Citronelle killer used ax first to murder victims; made several stops while fleeing to Mississippi". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  11. ^ Biunno, J.B.; Quynh, Jacqueline (August 31, 2016). "Derrick Dearman Pleads Not Guilty In The Citronelle Murders". WKRG. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d e "What drove Derrick Dearman to kill 5 people in Citronelle?". Alabama Live. Associated Press. August 23, 2016. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  13. ^ Sharp, John (August 22, 2016). "Citronelle mayor: City is in 'shock' following murders". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  14. ^ Hrynkiw, Ivana (August 22, 2016). "Family of Citronelle victims: Remember who they were, not how they died". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Specker, Lawrence (August 22, 2016). "Derrick Dearman, Citronelle quintuple murder suspect: 'Don't do drugs'". Alabama Live. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  16. ^ Specker, Lawrence (August 22, 2016). "Citronelle murder suspect Derrick Dearman bound for Mobile". Alabama Live. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  17. ^ Margolin, Emma; Grimson, Matthew (August 22, 2016). "Five People, Including Pregnant Woman, Brutally Killed in Alabama". NBC News. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  18. ^ Karimi, Faith; Patterson, Thom (August 21, 2016). "Man to be charged in Alabama mass murder". CNN. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  19. ^ Specker, Lawrence (28 February 2018). "In Citronelle mass murder, court still evaluating accused killer Derrick Dearman". AL.com. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  20. ^ "Mississippi man pleads guilty in 5 Alabama slayings". The Seattle Times. September 10, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  21. ^ "Mississippi man pleads guilty in 5 Alabama slayings". Charlotte Observer. September 10, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  22. ^ "Judge accepts guilty plea from Citronelle quintuple murder suspect". al.com. September 10, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  23. ^ "The Latest: Mississippi Man Pleads Guilty in 5 Slayings". The New York Times. September 10, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2018.[dead link]
  24. ^ "Derrick Dearman sentenced to death for 2016 Citronelle slayings of five and unborn child". al.com. October 12, 2018. Retrieved October 13, 2018.