Jason Dalton appeared to be a textbook everyman. A longtime husband and father of two. An insurance loss adjuster from a heartland state. A guy who picked up extra work as an Uber driver so he could reportedly take his family to Walt Disney World.
However, over the course of a few frantic hours on Feb. 20, 2016, Dalton tore a bloody path through Kalamazoo, Mich., an outburst of random gun violence that left six people dead and two more critically injured. Dalton broke up his killing spree by picking up Uber riders, a chilling detail that catapulted the incident into national headlines. Following his arrest on the night of the shootings, Dalton told investigators the ubiquitous ride-sharing app had taken him over “like artificial intelligence that can tap into your body,” according to police documents.
But whatever propelled a man who had never been in trouble with the law before to become a mass killer will likely now remain a mystery.
On Monday, as jury selection was set to begin in Dalton’s trial, the 48-year-old surprised the courtroom by announcing he wanted to plead guilty to first-degree murder and other charges he was facing.
“Yes, I’ve wanted this for quite a while,” Dalton told the judge, according to the Associated Press.
Dalton’s decision hit like a bombshell inside the courtroom because the defendant made the decision against the advice of his defense attorney. It also was not part of a negotiated deal with prosecutors.
“It’s unusual for a person to plead guilty to first-degree premeditated murder because the consequence is mandatory. It’s life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting admitted to reporters Monday at a news conference. “We’re aware of only a couple of instances ever where a plea had been made to first-degree murder.”
The bloodshed and mayhem was spread across four hours on a Saturday night. According to the Detroit Free Press, in the early hours of the evening, as Dalton began picking up Uber riders in his Chevrolet Equinox SUV, he acted erratically, blowing through stop signs and swerving through traffic. “Lucky to be alive,” one rider later posted in a tweet.
Around 5:30 p.m., Dalton’s car swung into an apartment complex parking lot. He flagged down Tiana Carruthers, a 25-year-old mother walking outside with her children.
“He asked me who I was. And I said, ‘No, I’m not that person.’ And I ended up letting it go,” she later told MLive. Dalton drove off, but when he returned a moment later, the driver opened fire on the young woman.
“I got hit in my right leg,” she later explained. “That’s when I fell. Then my left leg and I’m on the ground at this time. And he just kept . . . shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting.”
Bullets next flew in a Kia car dealership in Kalamazoo at 10 p.m., according to the Free Press. Dalton gunned down a father and son — Richard Smith, 53, and Tyler Smith, 17. Both were killed in the attack.
Minutes later, Dalton wheeled into the parking lot of a nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant. Four women — Mary Jo Nye, 60; Mary Lou Nye, 62; Dorothy Brown, 74; and Barbara Hawthorne, 68 — were all killed in the spray of gunfire. Abigail Kopf, 14, was also shot in the head during the attack but survived.
Dalton was later pulled over in the early morning hours of Feb. 21, 2016, when police noticed he was driving a car matching the description of the shooter rampaging through the Kalamazoo area. He was taken into custody without incident. Police found a 9mm handgun inside the Equinox.
According to Kalamazoo’s WOOD, Dalton told investigators he “saw the Eastern Star symbol and the devil pop up on his phone through the Uber app.”
Facing six counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and eight counts of felony firearm use, Dalton initially attempted to mount an insanity defense.
Last week, however, the court ruled he was mentally competent, teeing up this week’s trial. But before the proceedings began, the defendant’s attorney, Eusebio Solis, told the judge his client wanted to change his plea against the attorney’s advice.
“There are personal reasons for him,” Solis told the court, according to the AP. “He does not want to put his family through that, or the victims’ families, through the trial. It’s his decision.”
Dalton will be back in court on Feb. 5 to receive his mandatory life sentence.
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