James Brown, who has been locked up on lesser charges relating to the case since May, said little during a brief arraignment hearing in Sterling Heights, the Detroit suburb where he lived. He entered not guilty pleas to four counts of first-degree murder through his attorney, Jeffrey Cojocar, and is due back in court Jan. 9 for a hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence for a trial.
Cojocar said before the hearing that from the evidence he’s reviewed thus far, the case against Brown is circumstantial. He suggested, however, that Brown may have incriminated himself during a videotaped interview with Detroit police earlier this year. He said he anticipates a long trial.
"He has maintained his innocence 100 percent with regard to the homicides," said Cojocar, who plans to fight to suppress statements made to Detroit police.
The bodies of 24-year-old Demesha Hunt and 23-year-old Renisha Landers were found Dec. 19 in a car trunk in Detroit. The bodies of Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary were found Christmas Day in the trunk of a burning car. Three of the women had placed adult dating service ads on Backpage.com.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Brown faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole.
Landers’ mother, Chikita Madison, said that she was satisfied with the murder charges and predicted Brown would be going to prison "for a long time."
"Our daughters are in heaven," she said. "We’ll see them when it’s our time."
According to investigators, Brown initially made contact with the women through Backpage.com, meeting with them at his home in the suburb of Sterling Heights the day before the bodies were found. Police said for the first time Monday that the women went to Brown’s home in pairs.
Records show that final calls made from the victims’ mobile phones were transmitted through a cell tower near Brown’s house, the prosecutor’s office said. Brown previously faced charges including disinterment and mutilation of a dead body and arson, but not murder.
Before Monday’s hearing, Macomb County prosecutors met privately with victims’ relatives in a small room at the courthouse.
"The parents and relatives of these women have suffered so greatly," said Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith. "We will work to bring closure to these grieving families."