Editor's note: On Friday, Sept. 13, Danny Dittoe, one of four suspects charged in the vicious beating of Erath County resident Ricky Stephens, made a collect call to the Empire-Tribune asking to speak to a reporter. Managing Editor Sara Vanden Berge, who has followed the story since it happened in February, interviewed Dittoe from inside the Erath County Jail where he is being held.
The large door to the visitation room at the Erath County Jail opened with a heavy creek and closed with a sharp thud. The shackles bounding Danny Dittoe's legs were heard clinking on the cold floor before he could be seen through the glass windows separating visitors from the accused.
As Dittoe shuffled into sight, he picked up the telephone with an awkward twist of his hands, which were bound with handcuffs, and sat down in a chair facing the window.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Dittoe admitted that he can't read or write and said he has received limited information about his arrest or what lies ahead.
"They got me locked up in a little bitty cage and I can't get nothing," Dittoe said.
Dittoe was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals on Sept. 4 in Jasper County where he was found in a camping trailer.
His court-appointed attorney is Shay Isham who met with Dittoe Tuesday for the first time.
Before his arrest, Dittoe had been on the run for months, since being named as a suspect in the vicious beating of Ricky Stephens who was found barely alive on Feb. 2 at a property located in Erath County.
Stephens had been severely beaten, burned and partially castrated.
Dittoe and three others, Lanny Walton, Jody Bob Cohran and Dustin Davis, have all been arrested and charged in the case.
But like most people accused of something so heinous, Dittoe denies having any involvement and tried to justify the assault.
Dittoe said he was at his then-girlfriend's home on the morning of Feb. 2 when Walton and Cohran showed up with a beaten and bloody Ricky Stephens.
He said Stephens was begging for his life and apologizing to his attackers who reportedly took him to a wooded area and continued the assault. Dittoe claims Dalton showed up a short time later and joined in the attack.
When things "started getting crazy," Dittoe claims he ran back to the house.
"I took off. I run," Dittoe said. "I went to church because I was scared."
Dittoe admits, however, that he wasn't worried enough to help Stephens or call authorities.
Part of that, he says, stems from the fact that law enforcement officials are familiar with Dittoe who has a long history of legal troubles.
"My last name isn't good," he said. "I figured no one would listen to me."
He also claims the attack was in retaliation for a sexual assault against Walton's child.
"I should have stopped it," Dittoe said. "But part of me thought he deserved it, so I left."
It has long been rumored the beating was in retaliation for a sexual assault of a child. Authorities have been tight-lipped about a possible motive and said they have investigated the allegation, but will not talk about their findings.
But one investigator who asked not to be named said there appears to be no evidence that a sexual assault ever occurred.
When asked about the sexual assault, District Attorney Alan Nash said he has "no official comment on that allegation."
But Nash did point out that Walton's children tested positive for methamphetamine.
Those children were removed from the home and their mother, Ashley Walton, was arrested and charged with child endangerment.
Dittoe admitted he was on methamphetamine on Feb. 2 and said he believes the men beating Stephens were as well.
"They were acting crazy," he said.
This isn't Dittoe's first brush with the law. He said he has been arrested "a bunch, mostly misdemeanor stuff."
But he also served three years in prison for theft.
And it doesn't look like Dittoe will be getting out of the Erath County Jail anytime soon.
He has been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and assault with a deadly weapon.
His bond has been denied.