CROWN POINT | Darren Vann recently wrote a letter to Prosecutor Bernard Carter asking if he was going to seek the death penalty against him.
Carter answered Friday by filing an amended charging information where the state seeks two death sentences against him.
Vann, 44, of Gary, is facing murder charges in the strangling deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville.
Vann allegedly confessed last fall to killing five other women whose bodies were found in abandoned buildings scattered throughout Gary.
The five women are Teaira Batey, Kristine Williams, Tracy L. Martin, Sonya Billingsley and Tanya Gatlin. He has not been charged in those homicides.
Carter believes Vann's alleged crimes warrant the death penalty because Vann took items from each victim and is charged with two murders, according to court records. Both are considered aggravated factors that allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in Indiana.
The county's last death penalty case was against Kevin Isom, sentenced in 2013 to three consecutive death sentences for the shooting deaths of his wife, Cassandra Isom, and stepchildren, Michael Moore and C'Andria Cole. The Indiana Supreme Court is considering his appeal.
Prosecutors are also seeking the death penalty against Carl Blount, 26, of Gary. He is accused of shooting to death Gary Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield last summer. The case is pending in Lake Criminal Court.
The Lake County prosecutor's office filed the amended information against Vann on Friday after Lake Criminal Judge Diane Boswell agreed to join the two murder cases into one, meaning one jury will decide if Vann killed the women.
Vann was not in court for Friday's hearing. He previously waived his right to be present during court hearings unless the court told him he had to attend.
Boswell set a hearing for May 6 to read him the amended information.
The state sought to join the two cases against Vann because prosecutors believe the same brown cord was used to kill both women, according to the state's motion.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz said Vann also allegedly wore the same pair of shoes during the homicides, which happened within 10 days. She said Jones' DNA was found on the shoes.
According to the state's motion, prosecutors believe the motives in both homicides are sex and rage.
Defense attorney Teresa Hollandsworth objected to joining the two cases and argued court records allege different motives for the homicides. Public defense attorney Matthew Fech also represents Vann.
Hollandsworth said court records allege Vann was hired to kill Jones. An affidavit alleges Vann was offered drugs and money to make Jones disappear.
According to court records, Vann met Jones between Oct. 8 and Oct. 18 in a Merrillville home where they had sex, and he then strangled her to death. Her body was later found in a vacant home in the 400 block of East 43rd Street in Gary.
Hardy's body was found Oct. 17 at Motel 6 in Hammond. According to court records, Hardy and Vann arranged to meet that day through an online escort service.
Hollandsworth also argued the homicides happened in different cities and were not part of a single plan.
"What is overwhelming obvious to me is that it's extremely prejudicious to our client," Hollandsworth said.
Boswell said joining the cases could lead to prejudice against Vann, but said prejudice could exist even if the cases weren't joined. She also agreed to join the cases for practical reasons, noting it could be difficult to select even one set of jurors who are not familiar with the case.
The state is also seeking a handwriting sample from Vann to determine if he wrote a letter addressed to Carter.
Hollandsworth told Boswell she objected to the handwriting sample, though she didn't deny the letter was written by Vann, who apparently signed it.
In the letter, Hollandsworth said her client asks Carter if he intends to seek the death penalty against him. She argued it was irrelevant to the case.
"He's asking the prosecutor if he was going to go through with what was going to happen today," Hollandsworth said.
Jatkiewicz argued the letter gave insight into Vann's state of mind. Carter said the letter could be used as a mitigating factor if the case ever reaches the death penalty phase.
Hollandsworth said the defense would agree to signing a document stating Vann wrote the letter, but she did not want her client to go through the lengthy process of giving a handwriting sample.
Jatkiewicz objected saying the defense could later withdraw the document.
Boswell said she will rule on the state's motion for the handwriting sample during the May 6 hearing.
Vann's trial is slated to start June 22. The state's capital case against Isom was pending for nearly six years before the five-week trial started. A trial date has not been set in the case against Blount.