CROWN POINT — A suspected serial killer who was charged this week in the strangling deaths of five women made his initial hearing Wednesday in Lake County Criminal Court.
Shackled and wearing a gray Lake County Jail uniform, Darren D. Vann stood between his three public defense attorneys for the brief initial hearing in front of Magistrate Natalie Bokota.
Vann has been in custody since October 2014 when he was charged in the strangling deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville.
Hardy and Vann had arranged to meet through an online escort service at a Hammond motel room. When Hammond police arrested Vann after the discovery of Hardy's body, he allegedly admitted to killing six other women whose bodies were left in vacant buildings in Gary.
This week, Vann was additionally charged in the strangling deaths of Teaira Batey, Kristine Williams, Tracy L. Martin, Sonya Billingsley and Tanya Gatlin.
In total, Vann now faces seven murder charges. The Lake County prosecutor's office is seeking a death sentence for each homicide.
When asked by Bokota if he understood that he could face the punishment of death, Vann said, "Yes."
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Bokota entered a preliminary plea of not guilty for each count. He also was informed about charges in two separate cases that also were filed this week.
In one case, Vann is accused of raping a woman on Feb. 19, 2014, in Gary that he met through backpage.com, according to court records. He faces two counts of rape, attempted murder, two counts of criminal deviate conduct, four counts of criminal confinement and theft.
In another case, Vann is accused of on Feb. 24 throwing urine and feces at a correctional officer, according to the affidavit. He faces a charge of battery by bodily waste.
Defense attorney Gojko Kasich said Vann had been given copies of all the new charges. Kasich also asked that Vann's formal appearance in the new cases be waived, because Vann does not want to appear in court again unless he absolutely has to.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz, who represented the state along with Prosecutor Bernard Carter, said she has filed a motion requesting testing be done in the new cases. The matter is expected to be further discussed Friday.
Jatkiewicz and Carter did not object to the defense's motion for a gag order in the new cases, which would prohibit officials from discussing the cases in public. Bokota said she would recommend presiding Lake County Criminal Judge Samuel Cappas grant the order.
The attorneys will be back in court Friday for a hearing to determine if the murder cases in the homicides of Hardy and Jones should be heard by one jury or if they should be separated.