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CROWN POINT | A shackled Darren Vann made his initial court appearance Wednesday in Lake County Criminal Court. 

Vann, 43, of Gary, is charged in the strangling deaths of Afrika Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville. He allegedly confessed to killing at least five other women in Northwest Indiana.

Vann was sworn in Wednesday and politely answered questions by Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan, which was in contrast to his behavior last week. During his first initial hearing last week, Vann refused to speak or participate in the hearing. 

Sullivan entered a preliminary not guilty plea on his behalf. She read the charges he faces and asked if he understood the charges. 

"Yes, ma'am," Vann said.

Lake County officers and correctional officers filled the courtroom. The gallery consisted mostly of journalists and court staff. 

Vann, wearing a Lake County Jail uniform, appeared tired and frequently closed his eyes during the hearing.

He faces two counts of murder, two counts of murder in the perpetration of a robbery and two counts of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury.

Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Bernard Carter, who represented the state during Wednesday's hearing, said previously his office was in the initial stages of determining if the death penalty will be sought in the case.

The Lake County prosecutor's office already has a pending capital case against Carl L. Blount -- accused of killing Gary Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield. 

Vann indicated during the hearing Wednesday he will not hire a private attorney and will retain court-appointed public defender Matthew Fech.

Sullivan granted a new protective order in the state's case against Vann in the homicide of Anith Jones. The same order was granted last week in the state's case against Vann in Hardy's homicide.

The order means officials involved in the investigations cannot speak to the public or media about the case while it's pending.

The state is prohibited from speaking to Vann unless he initiates the conversations, Sullivan said. Fech said in court he must be present during any conversations the state has with his client.

Vann's next court hearing is set for Jan. 9. 

Hammond police arrested Vann last week after discovering Afrika Hardy's body Oct. 17 at a Hammond Motel 6. According to court records, the two met through an online escort service. 

Officials said Vann spoke in detail about Hardy's homicide, and then led detectives to the bodies of six women he allegedly left in abandoned buildings in Gary. 

Jones was found Oct. 18 in an abandoned building in the 400 block of East 43rd Street in Gary. 

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According to court records, Vann told detectives a mutual friend offered him $500 in cash and drugs to make Jones disappear because of an upcoming legal matter. 

Vann spoke to Jones several times by phone before meeting her in an empty Merrillville house sometime in October. Vann said he had sex with Jones and then strangled her to death, according to an affidavit. 

A friend of Jones told police Jones used online escort services like Hardy.

Vann said he later moved her body to a vacant home in Gary, according to the affidavit. 

Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary, and Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary, were among the women found in abandoned homes last week. The Lake County coroner's office has ruled their deaths homicides. 

Vann has not been charged in the homicides of Batey or Williams.

Officials are still working to identify three other women Vann has allegedly confessed to killing.

Two women were found in a second house at the same property where Jones was found. Officials said the remains of the women were partially skeletonized and have not been able to identify them. 

Another woman was found Oct. 19 in an abandoned home in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street in Gary. She has not been identified.

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