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UPDATED: Judge approves gag order in Washington County triple murder case

Becky Campbell • Updated Jan 9, 2018 at 6:49 PM

A judge issued a gag order Tuesday in the case against a Sullivan County man accused of killing a couple and their unborn child last month in Gray.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice granted the defense motion to prevent those involved in the case against 33-year-old Derrick Benjamin Sells from discussing details outside the Washington County courtroom.

Sells is accused of slaying Robert Aaron Vaughn and his pregnant wife, Kyanna Howes Vaughn, at their mobile home in the Oak Grove community north of Johnson City. Their bodies were found at 616 Friendship Court around 7 p.m. Dec. 4 by a friend who couldn’t reach them by phone and went to check on them.

Both had been shot to death the day prior to the discovery, according to Washington County sheriff’s investigators. Kyanna Howes Vaughn was about six months pregnant, so the fetus’ death constituted a third charge of murder under Tennessee law. Sells is charged with three counts of felony murder, three counts of premeditated murder, unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, especially aggravated robbery and aggravated child neglect.

Two children, ages 6 and 3, were found inside the residence unharmed, and investigators believe the older child may have seen the shootings.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Rice also granted defense attorney Bill Francisco’s motion to allow Sells to wear street clothes, as opposed to jail uniforms, in all court appearances. While District Attorney General Tony Clark stated that such an allowance usually only applies when the defendant is before a jury, he also did not oppose either motion.

In his motion to “restrict publicity,” Francisco noted there was no other information investigators could add to the public record at this time “and could only serve to further prejudice the defendant and deprive him of a fair trial.”

Francisco attached three articles to the motion printed from different local media websites to show a portion of the publicity the case had already received.

Sells was arraigned on the charges last week after he’d spent the night in a local hospital for injuries the sheriff’s office said he inflicted on himself. When he appeared in court last week, his neck had a large bandage on it.

On Tuesday, Sells didn’t have a bandage on, but there were visible marks that appeared to be cuts along a wide section of his neck. There was no information revealed in the hearing about Sells’ injury.

Rice also recently signed three orders to seal information regarding evidence collected from three search warrants. One was for electronic data for a Verizon cellphone number, a second was for DNA from Sells and a third was for the search of a 2010 red Kia Soul. The orders did not specify who owned the phone number or the vehicle. The number did not match one Sells wrote on an affidavit of indigency as his contact number.

Sells remains jailed on a $1 million bond. His next court date is a motion hearing scheduled for April 16.

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Reported earlier:

A judge issued a gag order Tuesday in the case against a man accused of killing a couple and their unborn child last month in Gray.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice granted the defense motion to prevent those involved in the case against 33-year-old Derrick Benjamin Sells from discussing details outside the Washington County courtroom.

Sells is accused of slaying Robert Aaron and his pregnant wife, Kyanna Howes Vaughn, at their mobile home in the Oak Grove community north of Johnson City. Their bodies were found at 616 Friendship Court around 7 p.m. Dec. 4 by a friend who couldn’t reach them by phone and went to check on them.

Both had been shot to death the day prior to the discovery. Kyanna Howes Vaughn was about six months pregnant, so the fetus’ death constituted a third case of murder under Tennessee law. Sells is charged with three counts of felony murder, three counts of premeditated murder, unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, especially aggravated robbery and aggravated child neglect.

Two children, ages 6 and 3, were found inside the residence unharmed, and investigators believe the older child may have seen the shootings.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Rice also granted defense attorney Bill Francisco’s motion to allow Sells to wear street clothes, as opposed to jail uniforms, in all court appearances. State prosectors did not oppose either motion.

Sells is due back in Washington County Criminal Court for a status hearing April 16.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more about this developing story.

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