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Murderer sentenced 25 years to life as new motive details emerge

WARNING: The details in this story may be graphic, News 11's April Hettinger reports

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - The local woman convicted of murdering an LGBTQ Yuma man was sentenced for her crime Thursday morning.

Newly obtained court documents detail why Derek Runnion may have been targeted.

For Derek Runnion's family, justice has partially been served, even though it will never bring him home.

The court document lists a motive as to why Derek might have been shot, stabbed and burned back in March of 2021. He was gay.

Now Jonissa Jones will pay the price with 25 years to life, after pleading guilty to first-degree murder charges.

Michael Runnion, Derek's dad, doesn't think the sentence is adequate.

"I don't think that anything will ever be good enough," Michael explained. "It wouldn't matter because it doesn't change the fact that Derek will never be here again.

Derek's sister, Cassandra Runnion feels the same way.

"If my brother is not here, why should they be?"

Even Derek's mother Sue Phelps weighed in with a heavy heart.

"I think everything that she did to my son should have happened to her," Phelps stated.

The court document explained the other defendant Erick Chavez led investigators to a drainage tunnel in Winterhaven where Derek Runnion's body was found brutally murdered and even burned. Chavez admitted to being there during the time of the murder.

New details came from the document where Chavez says he assisted a friend in the murder because the friend threatened his family.

Chavez told investigators the friend wanted to kill Derek because he was, 'Gay as [expletive.]'

But, the friend was never mentioned further. The document says Chavez and Derek met through a gay dating app.

"My mom had noticed when he was younger that, you know, he was dressing like a female every year on Halloween," Cassandra explained. "He didn't come out until he was about 14, to my mom."

We now know Jones and Chavez were in a relationship, according to court documents.

Jones said in her initial interrogation she knew Chavez was bisexual and was okay with it as long as he didn't cheat on her.

On the day of the murder, warranted Facebook messages between Chavez and Jones show a scheme to kill with one message planning for Chavez to shoot Derek, and if he screams for Jones to stab him. 

Derek's body was found with stab wounds to the back and neck along with a gunshot wound: a brutal way to die, but Derek's family says his spirit still lives on.

"The way he would answer my phone calls with 'what's up, buttercup?' or 'hello, beautiful,'" Cassandra said.

A tearful mother reminds every parent to hug their kids a little tighter, because you never know when it will be the last time.

"I'd like to hear him say 'I love you momma' one more time," Phelps explained.

Now that Jones is sentenced, it's just a waiting game to see what happens with Chavez's lengthy trial that begins next March.

"I'm worried about what we're going to see, like all the evidence that's going to come out," Cassandra stated.

Until then, they dream of the day they will be reunited with Derek in Heaven.

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April Hettinger

April was born and raised in San Diego where she loved the beach town and her two dogs, Lexi and Malibu. She decided to trade the beach for the snow and advanced her education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.


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