A Lake County (Indiana) judge on Wednesday morning entered informal not guilty pleas on behalf of a former Marine charged in the strangulation deaths of two women found in northwestern Indiana and is suspected of killing five others.
Darren Vann, a convicted sex offender from Gary, appeared before Lake Superior Court Judge Diane Boswell to face murder charges and other counts in the strangulation deaths of 19-year-old Afrikka Hardy and 35-year-old Anith Jones.
The 43-year-old Vann had refused to speak during an initial hearing in the Hardy case a week ago and was cited for contempt.
On Wednesday, the convicted sex offender from Gary responded to Lake County Magistrate Judge Kathleen Sullivan's questions, uttering "yes, ma'am" and "no ma'am."
Sullivan set Vann's next hearing in both cases for Jan. 9. She and Vann's attorney have 20 days to revise the pleas.
Vann was arrested a day after Hardy's body was found Oct. 17 in a Hammond motel and, according to police, provided information which led to the discovery of six more bodies, including Jones'.
Five of the bodies were found Oct. 19. Two of the women were identified as Gary residents Teaira Batey, 28, and Kristine Williams, 36. Police have not determined the identities of the other three, including two whose bodies were found on the same Gary block as Jones' body.
All of the deaths were ruled homicides.
Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey on a week ago asked for the public's help in identifying two of the bodies. Anyone with information is asked to call the Lake County Coroner’s Office at 219-755-3265.
Officials in Northwest Indiana and suburban Chicago, including Cook County, have checked abandoned homes in recent days searching for additional victims. Vann has indicated to police that his crimes could date back 20 years, police said.
Earlier this week, a Texas prosecutor explained why Vann was offered such a lenient prison sentence in a 2009 sexual assault case despite his his conviction on a similar charge in Indiana five years earlier.