Derrick Ray Thompson was found guilty of the first-degree murders of Milton residents Steven and Debra Zackowski. He still awaits trial in Bay County.
MILTON — A man accused of going on a pill-fueled killing spree across two counties has been convicted as charged of killing a Santa Rosa County couple.
Derrick Ray Thompson, 45, was convicted Thursday of two counts of first-degree murder, those of Milton residents Steven Zackowski, 60, and Debra Zackowski, 59, in July 2014. Thompson was arrested July 22, 2014, after police said he admitted killing the Zackowskis and former Bay County Sheriff’s Office narcotics officer and nightclub owner Allen Johnson, 66, during a premeditated plot to further his prescription pill addiction.
Thompson was found guilty as charged Thursday in the Santa Rosa County case and still awaits a first-degree murder trial in Bay County. In both cases, authorities plan to pursue execution.
At the end of the three-day trial, Prosecutor John Molchan said he used Thompson’s admission to the Zackowskis’ shootings in his closing arguments. It took the 12-person jury four hours to reach a verdict. Molchan declined to comment further on the case because it is still pending the death penalty hearing scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Thompson, of Pensacola, allegedly confessed to all three homicides after his capture outside a Troy, Alabama, hunting lodge the day after police discovered Johnson slain inside his Lynn Haven home.
“I shot him twice in the head, stole his money and bought some pills,” Thompson told investigators during a taped conversation. Police said he then admitted shooting Steven Zackowski once in the back of the head before forcing Zackowski’s wife to lead him to a safe where their pills were kept. Authorities found Debra Zackowski shot to death in a closet.
Thompson was considered a person of interest in the Zackowski slayings when investigators found Johnson in his Lynn Haven home, dead from gunshot wounds to the back of the head. A spent .380 caliber casing lay beside his body. The truck Thompson was believed to be driving after the first killings also was found at the scene.
Thompson told authorities he and Johnson were friends, hunted together, and Johnson had loaned him $200 days before the shootings in Santa Rosa County. Johnson said he wouldn’t loan him any more money but invited Thompson to come by and discuss it, Thompson told investigators.
In total, Thompson said he ended up taking several guns and about $600 in cash from the home. Investigators later would find a check for $500 at the scene, written out to Thompson. He used the money and a cellphone he allegedly stole from Johnson to amass a cache of prescription pills from a drug informant in Panama City, investigators reported.
Thompson’s case was one of four capital offense cases in the 14th Judicial Circuit snagged by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the way Florida imposed its death penalty was unconstitutional. His case is one of the first in the circuit to be tried under the new system.
After his death penalty hearing in Santa Rosa County, prosecutors in the 14th Judicial Circuit expect to take Thompson to trial early next year.