Indiana prosecutors are in the process of deciding whether to pursue the death penalty in the case against alleged serial killer Darren Deon Vann (pictured), according to a report at NWI Times.
The 42-year-old former U.S. Marine and Gary, Ind., resident faces murder charges in the strangling deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, Ind. Vann reportedly confessed to killing five other women whose bodies were found in abandoned properties in his hometown.
While Vann’s mental health and competency may complicate the case, it might not deter the Lake County, Ind., prosecutor’s office from seeking the death penalty.
Valparaiso University Law School Dean Andrea Lyon says, though, that even if records show Vann has a history of mental illness, the state could still seek the death penalty.
And while Lyon says the defense could argue that Vann is unfit for trial or claim insanity, she argues that it’s difficult to prove a defendant is insane and not fit for trial.
In December, the Lake County prosecutor’s office requested his school and military records, saying the documents could provide insight in to Vann’s mental health history as his office mulls whether to seek the death penalty, but Lake County Criminal Judge Diane Boswell denied the request for records.
The NWI Times reports:
During Vann’s last court hearing, he waived his right to be present during future court hearings unless he is required to attend.
“I’ll probably leave it in my attorneys’ hands most of the times,” Vann said in court.
Joseph Hoffmann, the Harry Pratter Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer Law School, said it’s unusual for a defendant to choose not to be present during hearings. He said Vann’s absence can later be argued as a reason for why Vann is not competent to stand trial.
Hoffmann called Vann’s response in the hearing troubling.
“It’s sort of an indication that there was something wrong,” Hoffmann said.
Vann’s case drew widespread attention in October after his arrest in the deaths. Other recent serial killers include Lonnie “Grim Sleeper” Franklin Jr., whose arrest in 2010 ended “a quarter-century of terror” for residents of Los Angeles and Anthony Sowell of Cleveland, Ohio, who was arrested in 2009 in the deaths of 11 women.