published Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Chattanooga man pleads guilty to killing 5-year-old son

A man who said he was "telepathic and hears voices" pleaded guilty Monday to killing his 5-year-old son.

Dedric Lamont Atkins, 35, will serve at least 13 years in state prison but could be confined longer if officials decide he still poses a danger to others.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Sept. 28, 2003, beating and strangulation death of his son Dedrick Kayshon Johnson.

"This is nothing but sadness, this case," said Atkins' attorney, Hilary Hodgkins.

Atkins had been declared not competent to stand trial shortly after the killing because he suffers from schizophrenia and is "delusional and psychotic," according to experts who have examined him.

Under Tennessee Department of Correction policy, when "less drastic" treatment options than hospitalization don't work for mentally ill inmates whose condition presents a risk of harm, involuntary hospitalization is an option.

Archives show that Atkins suffered from mental illness since at least 1997 and he had a history of violent offenses before his son's killing.

Emergency workers responded to calls after Atkins came downstairs from his Patten Towers apartment and told a bystander that voices in the television told him to kill his son.

Last year, experts for both the prosecution and defense determined Atkins could participate in a trial.

Hodgkins said that, in recent months, her client was able to understand his options. She credited new medications for bringing him to competency, but emphasized that he is still mentally ill.

If he had gone to trial and been acquitted by reason of insanity, Hodgkins said, Atkins faced the chance that he could be confined indefinitely. But by pleading guilty, he has a set sentence of 15 years, minus two years for time served.

During his plea hearing Monday, Hodgkins said her client told the court he was "telepathic and hears voices."

Prosecutor Neal Pinkston said he would not have been able to prove first-degree murder because Atkins' long-standing mental illness meant he didn't have the capacity for premeditation.

He had spoken about the plea agreement with his son's mother, Sherry D. Johnson, before Monday's hearing. Pinkston declined to share details of the discussion.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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