CROWN POINT — The trial in March for alleged serial killer Darren Vann has been rescheduled to October 2018.

A criminal court judge also rejected at a court hearing Friday in Lake Criminal Court two motions by the defense requesting the judge limit his role during the jury selection process.

Jury selection is now scheduled to begin Sept. 17, 2018 for the 46-year-old man charged in the murders of Afrika Hardy and Anith Jones in October 2014. The trial is scheduled for Oct. 22, 2018.

Darren Vann is altogether charged in two separate cases with the murder of seven women in Lake County.

Hardy, 19, was found strangled in a bathtub the night of Oct. 17, 2014 in a motel room in Hammond after she allegedly met Vann for paid sex.

Vann was arrested in Hardy's death and then allegedly admitted he killed six other women, including Jones, 35, whose body was discovered in an abandoned house in Gary.

Prosecutors succeeded on a motion last year to hold a single trial for the murders of Hardy and Jones, arguing the crimes were part of a single scheme or plan.

Vann faces the death penalty if convicted of the murders.

Trial dates for the other five murder charges have not been scheduled.

Vann did not appear at Friday's court hearing before Judge Samuel L. Cappas. He was represented by Matthew Fech, Mark Bates and Gojko Kasich. The state was represented by Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Jatkiewicz and Prosecutor Bernard Carter.

The defense presented two motions regarding the judge's role in jury selection.

Fech first asked that the judge not interrupt defense counsel during jury selection, arguing that such an interruption could create the impression in a juror's mind that the judge doubts the credibility of the defense counsel's presentation.

Cappas rejected the motion, stating the defense was effectively asking the judge to abdicate his role in picking a fair and impartial jury. He said he has never interrupted a defense attorney during jury selection, unless the attorney was asking an improper question.

Fech also asked the judge not ask jurors the so-called “magic question,” which is the practice of asking a prospective juror who has been challenged for cause if they will set aside their personal beliefs and decide the case based solely on the evidence and the court's instruction of law.

The purpose of the magic question is to determine whether a juror who has expressed a disqualifying bias or prejudice can still remain impartial when weighing evidence at trial.

Fech argued the question can lead to dishonest answers from jurors who feel pressured to provide the “correct” answer, though they are actually unable set their bias aside.

Jatkiewicz argued such “self-assessment” questions were the best method for determining a jurors intentions.

Cappas ruled in favor of the state.

Vann will be required to appear in court Nov. 9 so the judge can inform him of the new trial date.


Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.