Darren Vann

Darren Vann

CROWN POINT | Lake Criminal Judge Samuel Cappas will now preside over the county's two pending death penalty cases. 

The state's case against Darren Vann was moved Monday from Lake Criminal Judge Diane Boswell's courtroom to Cappas' courtroom.

It was not clear when Vann would appear before Cappas. Before the case was moved, Vann had been scheduled to appear in court for a pre-trial conference Dec. 18. 

Boswell recused herself from the case last Wednesday and asked for the case to be transferred to Cappas' courtroom, according to a court order. Court records did not explain why Boswell recused herself from the case. 

Vann, 44, of Gary, faces murder charges in the homicides of Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville. The Lake County prosecutor's office is seeking the death penalty against him. 

He allegedly admitted to killing five other women whose bodies were found in abandoned buildings in Gary. He has not been charged in those homicides.

The women are Teaira Batey, Kristine Williams, Tracy L. Martin, Sonya Billingsley and Tanya Gatlin. 

Cappas already is presiding over the county's other pending death penalty case, against Carl Blount who is accused of killing Gary Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield. 

Vann had been scheduled to stand trial Jan. 25 in both cases. His defense attorneys had filed a motion in September requesting the charges be separated into two different cases as they were originally charged. It didn't appear that a ruling was ever made on the motion. 

According to their motion, they argued one trial would cause unduly prejudice against Vann, because jurors will be unable to separate the complex evidence in the cases. They also argued the homicides are distinct crimes that should be prosecuted separately.

Vann is accused of on Oct. 17, 2014, killing Hardy in a Hammond motel room after they had arranged to meet through an online escort service, according to the affidavit.

In Jones' homicide, he told detectives he was offered money and drugs to make Jones disappear before an upcoming court hearing, according to court records. Vann allegedly admitted to police that he killed Jones in a vacant Merrillville home and later moved her body to an abandoned home in Gary.

The change in the presiding judge is the latest bump in the complex case. 

In September, Vann had written a letter to the court indicating he wanted to represent himself. He changed his mind in November after his defense attorneys were alerted about a hearing to discuss the matter and went to go visit him at the jail. 

One of his original defense attorneys, Teresa Hollandsworth, withdrew from the case in October after she accepted a position in the Lake County Juvenile Courts.

Vann's original trial date of June 22 was vacated, because the defense needed more time to prepare for the case after the state filed information indicating they were seeking the death penalty. 

In February, there was a lengthy hearing after Vann's defense attorneys accused Lake County Sheriff John Buncich of violating a gag order when he spoke to reporters about Vann's request for a book about the White Sox. Boswell ruled Buncich did not violate the order. 

Last December, Vann waived his right to appear for all future court hearings unless the court ordered him to appear. 

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