Donald Deardorff was sentenced to death by the State of Alabama for a murder committed during a home invasion. According to court documents Donald Deardorff and Millard Peacock would break into the victims home, take the man hostage for several days before ultimately murdering him. Millard Peacock would plead guilty to escape the death penalty and would testify against Donald Deardorff who would ultimately be sentenced to death
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Ted Turner was a minister of Unity Church, the father of two children, and a businessman who owned a warehouse and rental properties. He disappeared in September 1999. His decomposed remains were discovered in a remote area of Baldwin County in July 2001, after Deardorff’s codefendant, Millard Peacock, cooperated with members of law enforcement investigating Turner’s disappearance and led them to the body.
The trial of this case spanned two weeks and involved many witnesses and exhibits. The evidence occasionally conflicted, but the evidence presented at trial tended to establish the following. Turner was 56 years old and had undergone knee surgery shortly before he disappeared in September 1999. He was still required to wear a knee brace and his mobility was restricted, but he could walk and drive a vehicle.
Beginning in 1998, Turner had leased a storage warehouse to Donald Deardorff and his girlfriend, Christy Andrews. Deardorff had, at some point, stopped making the rental payments for the warehouse and Turner pursued legal action against Deardorff and Andrews in the district court. Deardorff and Andrews were evicted from the warehouse and, on July 27, 1999, a default judgment was entered against them in the amount of $3,087.50. Numerous dismantled vehicles, vehicle parts, and tools were left in the warehouse when Deardorff and Andrews abandoned it, and Turner was attempting to seize those items through the court proceedings.
Turner had executed a will on January 22, 1999, in preparation for a trip to Paris, France. A copy of the will was found on his kitchen table after he disappeared. The will had an addendum in Turner’s handwriting that stated: “Reaffirmed 7/27/99 just in case Don Deardorff is really crazy.” Turner’s signature followed the reaffirmation. (C. 845.)
Donald Deardorff became acquainted with his codefendant, Millard Peacock, several years before the murder, and they became friends and worked on cars together. Peacock entered into a plea bargain with the State of Alabama in which he received a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment; part of the agreement involved Peacock’s promise to cooperate with the prosecution and to testify truthfully at Deardorff’s trial. Peacock testified that Deardorff was very angry at Turner for filing the legal actions against him and attempting to seize his property. In August 1999, Deardorff told Peacock that he planned to rob Turner to “get even” with him. Deardorff also said that he would like to kill Turner.
On September 20, 1999, Donald Deardorff drove to Lucedale, Mississippi, where Peacock was staying with his girlfriend, Dawn Dunaway. Dunaway later testified that she left Peacock a note with a picture of a handgun because her .38 Special handgun was missing from her house. During the evening of September 21, 1999, Deardorff and Peacock went to an area near Turner’s house. They climbed the hillside behind Turner’s house and planned how they would later break into the house. Deardorff had carried a .38 caliber handgun with him, and he hid the gun behind Turner’s house before they left. Deardorff had previously told Peacock that that handgun had been stolen from his grandmother’s house during a burglary and that he later found the gun and kept it without reporting that it had been recovered. On the evening of September 22, 1999, Deardorff and Peacock again climbed the hillside behind Turner’s house, this time with the intent to rob Turner, Peacock said. Deardorff retrieved the handgun that he had hidden earlier, and they entered the house through an unlocked back door. Turner was not home. Deardorff looked in Turner’s file cabinets, and then the men waited for Turner to come home.
When Turner entered through the front door of his house, Donald Deardorff pointed the gun at him and told him to be quiet or “he would blow his brains out.” (R.2098.) Deardorff and Peacock then used duct tape they had found in the house to bind Turner’s hands, and they placed him in a closet. Deardorff left for the evening and Peacock slept on the floor. He let Turner out of the closet to use the bathroom; he removed the tape from Turner’s hands and did not reapply it when he put Turner back into the closet. Deardorff returned to the house the following morning. Peacock testified that Deardorff forced Turner to write a personal check for $4,000. Peacock said that Deardorff told Turner that “he figured this was the best way to get even with him, to leave him financially broke.” (R. 2101.) Turner told Deardorff he would give him whatever he wanted, and pleaded to be left alive. Deardorff then told Turner that he was not going to kill him. He also told Peacock that the two of them would leave the country after they had finished with Turner.
Peacock drove Turner’s car to AmSouth Bank, taking the $4,000 check with him. Peacock said that he took the check to be cashed because Deardorff did not have any identification. Peacock cashed the check, returned to Turner’s house, and gave Deardorff the money. Peacock said that Donald Deardorff then made Turner write out four “credit card checks.” The four checks totaled $17,750. Peacock again drove Turner’s car, this time to United Bank, where Peacock had an account. The bank would not cash the checks; the teller told Peacock he would have to deposit them into his savings account and that the money would be available in five business days. Peacock deposited the checks in his account. When he returned to Turner’s residence and told Deardorff that he could not access the money for five days, Deardorff said that they would have to change their plans.
Donald Deardorff and Peacock spent that remainder of the day and night in Turner’s house. They watched television and ate pizza purchased with Turner’s money. Deardorff used Turner’s computer; he ordered numerous automobile parts using Turner’s credit cards, and he visited several pornographic Web sites. Turner remained in the closet the entire time.
Early the following morning, before dawn, Donald Deardorff woke Peacock and told him they had to leave. Deardorff told Turner that they were going to take him to a park and leave him on a park bench, then call the police so they could pick him up. Turner requested a blanket because it was cool outside, so one of the men put a blanket in the car. Turner’s hands and mouth were taped using the duct tape and he was placed in the passenger seat of his own car. Deardorff took some items from Turner’s garage and some files from the file cabinet. Deardorff had the handgun and the proceeds from the check they had been able to cash. Deardorff drove the car with Turner in the front seat and Peacock followed, driving Turner’s truck.
Donald Deardorff stopped at a small gasoline service station and told Peacock to lock Turner’s truck and leave it there. Peacock then got in the backseat of Turner’s car. Deardorff told Turner that he did not want him to see where they were taking him, so he put a pillowcase over his head and taped it so it would not come off. Deardorff then placed the passenger seat in a reclining position and drove to a logging road blocked by a gate. The road was approximately one mile away from a house Deardorff and his girlfriend, Christy Andrews, had lived in until August 1999. Peacock said that he and Deardorff got Turner out of the car and walked him to the end of the logging road. Peacock did not believe at that time that Turner would be killed, and he did not know whether Deardorff had a weapon with him. When they reached the end of the road, Peacock said, Deardorff told him to wait there and that he was going to walk Turner a few more feet. Deardorff walked a bit further with Turner, forced him to kneel on the ground, and then shot him in the head four times, killing him.
Peacock and Donald Deardorff drove Turner’s car to the service station where they had parked Turner’s truck. Deardorff suggested that he and Peacock drive the vehicles to Dawn Dunaway’s house in Mississippi and leave one of the vehicles there. Deardorff drove the car and Peacock drove the truck, and they left the truck in Mississippi. They spent two nights at a hotel in Mobile. Deardorff then instructed Peacock to drop him off at a Conoco brand gasoline service station and to pick him up there two days later, which Peacock did. The men then returned to Dunaway’s house and stayed there overnight. Deardorff used the computer at Dunaway’s residence to order additional car parts using Turner’s credit cards.
On September 30, 1999, Donald Deardorff drove Turner’s car to a sandbar along a river in Mississippi and burned it. Deardorff and Peacock then drove to Atmore, where Peacock entered the United Bank and withdrew from his account $17,700 from the deposit of Turner’s credit-card checks. Deardorff told Peacock to drop him off at the Conoco station. He gave Peacock several hundred dollars but told him that he would keep the rest of the money. He told Peacock that he would contact him later and that they would split the rest of the money then.
Donald Deardorff went to stay with his girlfriend at her parents’ residence. Deardorff told Andrews that he had gotten the money in a drug deal. He also showed her a handgun and he told her he had it for protection. On the following day, October 1, 1999, Andrews and Deardorff went to a Wal-Mart discount store in Andrews’s car. As they were leaving the store parking lot, several law-enforcement officers, with guns drawn, stopped the car. Andrews was driving. The officers asked Andrews to follow them to the sheriff’s office and she agreed to do so. While en route, Andrews told Deardorff that the officers must have found out about his drug deal. Donald Deardorff disagreed and told Andrews that they wanted to question him about Turner. Andrews said that, earlier that day, she and her father had heard a news report of Turner’s disappearance. Deardorff had asked them what information had been reported, and Andrews testified that Donald Deardorff seemed surprised to hear that Turner was missing.
Upon their arrival at the sheriff’s office, Andrews consented to the search of her vehicle. On the backseat of her car officers discovered a box that belonged to Donald Deardorff. Inside the box the police found $18,900 in cash and a .38 caliber handgun with five unspent rounds in the chamber.1 The box also contained a catalog of pornographic videotapes and paperwork relating to Internet orders for automobile parts placed in Turner’s name and using his credit cards. The parts ordered were for cars of the same make and model as Deardorff owned and the documents were printed on the evening of September 28, 1999. When Deardorff heard the officers talking about the money and the weapon being found in the car, he stated, “The gig is up.” (R. 1514, 1595.) 2 When one of the deputy sheriffs asked Deardorff what he meant by that remark, the officer testified that he replied, “[T]ake the death penalty off the table and I’ll tell you.” (R. 1595.)
Donald Deardorff then told the officers that, a few days earlier, Peacock had given him the box to hold for safekeeping. He said that Peacock asked him to hold the box for two days and that Peacock would then retrieve it. Deardorff said that he became curious about the contents of the box and opened it; he said he was surprised to see the gun and the money, and he became scared and nervous. Donald Deardorff told the officers that when he heard that Turner was missing, he “put two and two together; the money, Millard Peacock, the gun, Ted Turner missing,” and put the box and its contents into Andrews’s car. (R. 1561.) He said that he and Andrews rode around looking for Peacock so they could return the box to him. They stopped at a Wal-Mart, he said, and were then stopped by the police. The officers noted that the box was from a Dollar General Store, and that Andrews worked in a Dollar General Store. Donald Deardorff was arrested on a charge of possessing a firearm without a permit.
Andrews consented to the search of the storage facility she and Donald Deardorff had rented. Inside the facility the police found numerous items that came from Turner’s house, including a roll of duct tape, the ends of which matched the tape used to bind Turner’s hands and feet and to secure the pillowcase over his head, a pair of binoculars Turner frequently used at his house, and two cameras that a neighbor had recently loaned to Turner.
Peacock was arrested at Dunaway’s house in Mississippi on October 5, 1999. He gave numerous conflicting statements to the police, and in July 2001, he agreed to cooperate fully and he led the police to Turner’s remains.