Hearing postponed for murder suspect
Crowpointe, Ind. — A man who allegedly confessed to killing seven women in Indiana refused to even acknowledge his name to the judge Wednesday during his initial court appearance, and a sheriff explained later that the suspect was upset his hearing was in open court before dozens of journalists.
The judge asked Darren Vann, 43, of Gary, Indiana, if he swore to tell the truth and to also confirm his name at an initial court appearance in the strangulation death of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy. But Vann stood unmoving and stone-faced, staring back silently at the judge.
After a pause, Magistrate Judge Kathleen Sullivan warned Vann as he stood before her in striped jail garb and with his wrists and legs shackled that he would be held in contempt. He still declined to speak, neither shaking his head nor uttering a word.
“Mr. Vann, are you choosing not to take part in this hearing?” Sullivan asked Vann during the hearing, which was in a hearing room at the Lake County Jail in Crown Point.
Sullivan then addressed Vann’s public defender, Matthew Fech, urging him to advise his client speak.
“Tell your client that he stays in jail the rest of his life until this hearing takes place,” she said.
Vann’s public defender walked up to Vann and put his hand on his shoulder, encouraging him to speak. But he again offered no response.
The judge then found him in contempt and said she would schedule another initial hearing for next week.
Before entering the courtroom, Vann had peered through a window at spectator benches, asking his guards why so many journalists were there and refusing to even enter, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich told reporters later. Vann’s lawyer finally convinced Vann to at least enter the room, he added.
Until Wednesday morning’s hearing, the sheriff said Vann’s demeanor had been “quiet, calm and collected,” which included confessing to investigators and leading police to abandoned homes where several bodies were hidden.
Vann is already being held in isolation and is on 24-hour-a-day watch at the county jail, Bunich said, so it’s unclear how the contempt charge will alter his status. His silence, if it persists, could raise complicated legal questions that might severely slow the prosecution process.
At the less than 10 minute hearing, the judge also issued a gag order, meaning investigators can no longer interview Vann unless they first get his permission through his attorney, Buncich said. It’s unclear if Vann will, in fact, stop speaking to authorities about the killings. His public defender did not comment after the hearing.
Vann, a convicted sex offender, is charged with the strangulation death of Hardy, whose body was found Friday in a bathtub at a Motel 6 in Hammond, 20 miles southeast of Chicago. Authorities said Hardy was involved in prostitution and had arranged to meet Vann at the motel through a Chicago-area website.
Police arrested him Saturday in Hardy’s death after obtaining a search warrant for Vann’s vehicle and home in nearby Gary. After his arrest, investigators say Vann directed them to the bodies of six other women in Gary whom they say he also confessed to killing. More charges are likely.
Officers found the body of 35-year-old Anith Jones, of Merrillville, Indiana, on Saturday night in an abandoned home. She had been missing since Oct. 8.
Five more bodies were found Sunday in other homes, said Hammond Police Chief John Doughty, who identified two of the women as Gary residents Teaira Batey, 28, and Kristine Williams, 36. Police have not determined the identities of the other three women, including two whose bodies were found on the same block where Jones’ body was found Saturday.
Investigators in Indiana and Texas, where he has also lived and served prison time, have been poring over cold case files and missing person reports to determine if there are more victims.
Vann was convicted in 2009 of raping a woman in his Austin, Texas, apartment. He was released from prison last year and moved back to Indiana.
Before that conviction, he served a year in prison in Indiana after he grabbed a Gary woman in a chokehold in 2004, doused her with gasoline and threatened to set her on fire.
In both the Texas and Indiana cases, the charges against Vann were reduced in plea bargains, and Texas officials deemed him a low risk for violence. Vann registered as a sex offender in Indiana and police made a routine check in September that he lived at the address he provided.
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