Phillip Locke thought he was avenging his brother’s death when he lured Diondus Billings, 27, to South Knoxville and pumped three bullets into his head.
A Knox County jury, however, called it first-degree murder.
Locke, 32, was sentenced to life in prison by Judge Steve Sword at the conclusion of a four-day trial last week in Knox County Criminal Court. Under Tennessee law, Locke will have to spend at least 51 years behind bars before he can be considered for parole.
In addition to finding him guilty of first-murder, jurors also found Locke guilty of 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.
He will be sentenced for those crimes on December 13, said McDermott.
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 will argue at Locke’s upcoming sentencing hearing that all his sentences should run consecutively to the life term he’s already received for the crime of murder, McDermott said.
“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 November 1, 2021.