Trial ordered in deaths of 4 suspected escorts

Wednesday - 1/9/2013, 6:02pm EST

By ED WHITE
Associated Press

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) - A Detroit-area man charged with killing four suspected escorts was ordered to trial Wednesday for first-degree murder.

James Brown of Sterling Heights is accused of killing the women in pairs on two days in 2011, and then abandoning the bodies in cars in a run-down Detroit neighborhood. He told police that he met the Detroit women on Backpage.com, which carries personal ads.

After a full day of testimony about DNA and other evidence, District Court Judge Michael Maceroni found there was probable cause to send the case to Macomb County Circuit Court.

Defense attorney Jeff Cojocar said he would aggressively attack the evidence. He said the investigation might show his client was with the women before they died but it doesn't prove that he killed them.

"No one really knows what happened," Cojocar said outside court.

Detroit police detective Derryck Thomas testified that Brown admitted he was with the women in his basement when they died. Brown told the officer that he fell asleep and simply found them lifeless when he woke up on two separate occasions.

Brown said he put the bodies of Renisha Landers and Demesha Hunt in the trunk of their car and left the vehicle in Detroit on Dec. 19, 2011, according to Thomas. Six days later, on Christmas Day, the bodies of Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary were found in a burning car in the same neighborhood.

"He loaded them up in the trunk of the vehicle and drove them to the city," the detective testified. "He said he got some gas in a cup and took it with him. He poured the gas in the trunk area and lit the car on fire."

Two doctors who performed autopsies said the exact causes of death are undetermined, but they believe the women probably died of asphyxiation, a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County medical examiner, testified that Curtis and McCrary were burned beyond recognition after they were killed.

"Clearly they were killed somewhere and the bodies were placed in trunks of cars," Schmidt said. "We don't know what happened, but we know something bad happened to them."

Brown's DNA matched evidence gathered from Landers' fingernails, and his DNA can't be ruled out from samples taken from Hunt's nails, Michigan State Police scientist Jennifer Jones said.

Curtis' blood was discovered on a closet door in Brown's home and likely was on a pillow, Jones testified.

Prosecutors also presented evidence of cellphone calls and text messages between Brown and Landers, and others between Brown and McCrary, that were sent shortly before the four women died.

Cojocar said he'll ask the trial judge to suppress Brown's statements to police.

"Some of the stuff just doesn't make sense," he told reporters.

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