Trial ordered in deaths of 4 suspected escorts

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Associated Press

Posted on January 9, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 9 at 3:05 PM

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — A Detroit-area man charged with killing four suspected escorts has been ordered to stand trial.

James Brown is accused of killing the women in pairs on two days in 2011, and then abandoning the bodies in cars.

Judge Michael Maceroni decided Wednesday that there was enough evidence for a trial after hearing testimony about DNA, phone calls and incriminating statements.

Detroit detective Derryck Thomas testified that Brown admitted he was with the women in his basement when they died. Thomas says Brown told him that he fell asleep and found the women lifeless when he woke up.

A state police scientist told the judge that Brown's DNA was under one of the victims' fingernails. Brown says he met the women through Backpage.com, which carries personal ads.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

DNA from a Detroit-area man charged with killing four suspected escorts was found under the fingernails of one of the women, a scientist testified Wednesday.

More than a year later, a judge must determine whether James Brown will stand trial for first-degree murder in the December 2011 deaths.

The women were found in pairs in car trunks in Detroit, six days apart. Two of the victims were burned beyond recognition in a car that was set on fire. Doctors who performed autopsies believe all four died of asphyxiation.

Jennifer Jones, a Michigan State Police scientist, said Brown's DNA was under the fingernails of Renisha Landers and it can't be ruled out from evidence gathered from the nails of Demesha Hunt.

The blood of another victim, Natasha Curtis, was discovered on a closet door in Brown's Sterling Heights home and likely was on a pillow, Jones testified.

Dr. Francisco Diaz, an assistant Wayne County medical examiner, performed autopsies on Landers and Hunt. He found no signs that would suggest a physical struggle such as broken nails or contusions.

He said it's possible for someone to be asphyxiated without a struggle, especially if the attacker is larger than the victim. Brown is muscular, more than 6 feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds.

Dr. Carl Schmidt, the county medical examiner, testified that Curtis and Vernithea McCrary were burned beyond recognition. But he believes they, too, were victims of asphyxiation before the fire.

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

At least three of the four women promoted themselves as escorts-for-hire on Backpage.com, which carries classified and personal ads.

Police have phone records to show the victims' last calls were transmitted through wireless towers near Brown's home. He is being prosecuted in Macomb County because that's where authorities believe the women were killed before their bodies were dumped in Detroit.

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Follow Ed White on www.twitter.com/edwhiteap

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