CROWN POINT | Suspected serial killer Darren Vann, who faces the death penalty, will stand trial June 22.
Lake Criminal Judge Diane Boswell reinstated the June trial during Friday's court hearing. The date had been previously vacated by Boswell after the state formally filed information seeking two death sentences against Vann if he is convicted of murder.
Vann, 44, of Gary, faces murder charges in the strangling deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, according to court records. Vann allegedly confessed to killing the women along with five other women who were found last fall in vacant properties scattered across Gary, police previously said.
He has not been charged in the homicides of the five other women. The other women are Teaira Batey, Tanya Gatlin, Sonya Billingsley, Tracy L. Martin and Kristine Williams.
Boswell had originally set the June 22 trial date during a March hearing. During that hearing, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz had requested the June trial date because of the time the state has to prosecute Vann, citing the state's fourth rule of criminal procedure.
The rule states a defendant can't be held in custody for longer than six months without a jury trial. However, a defendant can be kept in custody beyond that time period if the delay is attributed to the defense or to a congested court calendar.
Vann was charged Oct. 20 and has since remained in the Lake County Jail.
Jatkiewicz filed a motion to correct the docket earlier this week. Boswell said during Friday's hearing that she reviewed audio from a previous court hearing and granted the motion to reinstated the June trial date.
Boswell said she will meet with attorneys for the defense and state Monday afternoon to begin deciding questions for potential jurors.
Vann, who was shackled and wearing a Lake County Jail uniform, did not say anything during Friday's hearing. He was surrounded by correctional officers and his public defense attorneys Matthew Fech, Teresa Hollandsworth and Mark Bates.
Fech requested during Friday's hearing a court order for the state to turn over documents related to DNA evidence in the case. Boswell granted the defense's motion and asked the state to provide the evidence to the defense by June 5.
According to court records filed in March, a brown cord recovered by detectives contained DNA from Hardy and Jones. Prosecutors believe Vann used the cord to kill both women, according to court records.
Hardy was found strangled to death Oct. 17 in a bathtub at a Motel 6 in Hammond. According to court records, the two met through an online escort service.
Jones was found dead Oct. 18 in an abandoned building in the 400 block of East 43rd Street in Gary. According to court records, Vann told detectives a mutual friend offered him money and drugs to make Jones disappear before an upcoming legal matter.
Jones' DNA was recovered from a pair of shoes Vann allegedly wore during both homicides, according to court records.
Vann is one of two Lake County defendants who are facing the death penalty if found guilty at trial.
In an unrelated case, the state is seeking the death penalty against Carl Blount, 26, of Gary, who is accused of shooting to death Gary Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield. A trial date has not been set in the case.
Like in Blount's case, the auditor earlier this month was ordered to seal the defense's itemized billings and invoices related to Vann's case. The order is typically filed in death penalty cases to shield prosecutors from information about the defense strategy that could be gleaned from their budget requests.
The county's last death penalty case, which was against Kevin Isom, was pending in Lake Criminal Court for more than six years before the trial started after months of jury selection. The Indiana Supreme Court recently upheld Isom's death sentence.