Attorney in triple slaying case wants gag order

Becky Campbell • Jan 4, 2018 at 11:18 PM

The defense attorney appointed Thursday to represent a Sullivan County man in a triple homicide case already filed his first motion, asking a judge for a gag order.

Derrick Benjamin Sells, 33, of Fall Branch, was arraigned Thursday on three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of felony murder (murder in the commission of a felony), one count of aggravated robbery and two counts of aggravated child abuse/neglect.

He’s accused of killing Robert Aaron “Rac” Vaughn, 25, and his pregnant wife, Kyanna Howes Vaughn, 24, on Dec. 3 inside their Friendship Court mobile home in Boones Creek. The child neglect charge stemmed from Sells leaving the couple’s two young children, ages 6 and 3, alone with no one to care for them.

Sells was indicted by a special called Washington County grand jury Dec.18.

After reviewing an affidavit of indigency Thursday, Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice appointed the public defender’s office to represent Sells. Assistant Public Defender Bill Francisco joined Sells at the lectern in the courtroom and immediately announced he had a motion seeking a gag order from the judge.

“I have a motion to restrict publicity in this matter,” Francisco said. He went on to tell the judge that District Attorney General Tony Clark had made public statements about the case on Wednesday to local media.

Clark did give a brief interview to media representatives after the announcement in court Wednesday that Sells would not be in court and the arraignment was reset for Thursday. Clark did not reveal the reason — except that Sells was in the hospital — for the rescheduling.

Washington County Sheriff’s Office officials released information after the hearing that indicated Sells was found on the floor of his cell bleeding from the neck around 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and was taken to the Johnson City Medical Center.

Sells was supposed to be in court Wednesday for arraignment, but was hospitalized at the time after he was discovered Tuesday night lying on his cell floor and bleeding from the neck. Officials said Sells cut himself with something. The injury was “serious, but not life threatening,” Sheriff Ed Graybeal said in a press release. Sells was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

Robert and Kyanna Vaughn were found dead in their mobile home on Friendship Court Dec. 4 after a friend went to check on them. The friend had been unable to reach the couple by phone and went to the residence. Officials believe the couple was killed the previous day.

Washington County sheriff’s Investigators and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents developed Sells as a suspect after they obtained cellphone records and learned Sells and Aaron Vaughn had talked on the phone Dec. 3.

Officers began surveillance on Sells, and he was arrested by Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office deputies Dec. 12 when he left his residence. Sells was initially arrested on an outstanding violation of probation warrant in Sullivan County, but he got new charges because he had a loaded weapon in the car.

In addition to the weapon, Sells reportedly also had clothing items that belonged to Robert Vaughn in his vehicle.

Sells remains jailed on a $1 million bond. He has a hearing scheduled Tuesday on his attorney’s motion for a gag order.

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