Murder suspect's escape during trial may prompt changes

Dearick Stokes (Source: Shelby County Sheriff's Department)
Dearick Stokes (Source: Shelby County Sheriff's Department)

By Lori Brown - bio | email

Memphis, TN (WMC-TV) - A man-hunt is underway for a murder suspect, two days after he walked away from the Criminal Justice Center as the jury was about to return a verdict. Authorities now say the unusual case has them considering changes to security.

"What happened on Saturday was at the very least extremely unfortunate," Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell said. "It shows we have flaws in the criminal justice system that need to be addressed."

Dearick Stokes, 21, was on trial for the murder of Bryan Hatchett, 29. Hatchett was shot while he was in this car on Warren Street more than a-year-and-a-half ago. Investigators say the murder was part of an attempted robbery.

Stokes who was out on 250-thousand dollars bond, came to his trial every day. On day four, at about 4:30 the jury reached a verdict.

"We all walked into the courtroom knowing full well we had a verdict," Stokes' attorney Marvin Ballin said. "He told the deputy, 'I've got to use the bathroom, I've got to use the bathroom.'"

Stokes got away because when he walked out of the courtroom there was no one around to see if he went to the bathroom, or if he down the elevator instead.

Given his choice of life in prison or life on the run one has to ask what's being done to stop the next defendant from walking away.

Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell says he's working on that.

"In a courtroom ultimately that is the judge's domain, I would be presumptuous to publicly talk about solutions until we had an opportunity to talk with the judges."

One solution could be for deputies to at least keep a better eye on a defendant.

Luttrell says he can't remember any other defendant jumping bail during their trial. But he says bail jumps are somewhat common. He says to prevent those, the Shelby County Justice system needs to move cases through the system a lot faster.

Luttrell says the chances of Stokes being caught are better than even.

Copyright 2010 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.