Man gets life plus 30 years for revenge murder

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Phillip Locke

A Knoxville man had murder on his mind when he told Diondus Billings to meet him for a drug deal in South Knoxville in 2017.

In fact, Phillip Jerome Locke, 32, thought he was avenging his brother’s death when he lured Billings, 27, to Baker Avenue and pumped three bullets into his head. 

On Monday, he learned that he’ll never leave prison alive when Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword sentenced him to life plus 30 years in the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Locke was convicted of a slew of crimes following a four-day trial in October. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, carjacking, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and unlawful possession of a firearm, according to Knox County District Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Sean McDermott.

Sword sentenced Locke to life in prison for the murder of Billings and ordered him to serve another 30 years for the firearm count. The sentences are to be served consecutively, McDermott said.

The chain of events that led to Diondus Billing’s death began on June 20, 2017, when Locke’s younger brother, 26-year-old Jerome Locke, was found shot to death on Meadowview Road, authorities said.

A little over five months later, Billing’s corpse was found lying in the street at 900 Baker Avenue.

“At the scene, officers found that the victim had been shot multiple times in the head,” said McDermott. “Subsequent investigation revealed that the victim and Locke knew each other because the victim was friends with Locke’s brother. A few months earlier, Locke’s brother was murdered in a shooting, and Locke began to suspect that the victim was somehow responsible.”

Locke decided that Billings had to pay for his sibling’s death, and he took his revenge on October 29, 2017, according to prosecutors.

“Locke lured the victim to meet under the guise of a drug deal, and Locke convinced the victim to drive him to Baker Avenue,” McDermott said. “Once on Baker Avenue, Locke shot the victim in the head three times. Locke then went to the driver’s seat, removed the victim from the car, and left him in the street. Locke got in the driver’s seat of the vehicle and drove over the victim while fleeing from the scene.”

Before Billing’s slaying, Locke already had a lengthy criminal record that included three convictions for aggravated robbery, three convictions for attempted aggravated robbery, and one conviction for possession of cocaine with the intent to sell.

Assistant District Attorneys Kevin Allen and Hector Sanchez of the DA’s Major Crimes Unit prosecuted the case. 

“Dangerous, violent offenders who have so little regard for human life deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison to make sure others in our community are not victimized,” said DA Charme Allen.

Published on December 14, 2021.