Man's DNA linked to 1 of 4 slain suspected escorts

Associated Press

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — 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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