James Brown charged in deaths of 4 escorts found stuffed in car trunks in Detroit

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. - Prosecutors on Monday brought first-degree murder charges against a man in the killing of four suspected escorts whose bodies were found stuffed in the trunks of abandoned cars in Detroit last year.

James Brown, 24, has been in custody since May on lesser charges while investigators built the murder case against him. The victims, traveling in pairs, visited his Macomb County home before their bodies were discovered on two different days last December, miles away in Detroit, Sterling Heights police Det. Mary Whiting told a judge.

Brown said little in court and allowed his attorney to enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

Chikita Madison, whose 23-year-old daughter Renisha Landers was found dead in a car trunk Dec. 19 along with another slain woman, 24-year-old Demesha Hunt, said she was satisfied with the new charges and predicted Brown would be going to prison "for a long time." If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

"Our daughters are in heaven," Madison said outside court. "We'll see them when it's our time."

At least three of the four victims promoted themselves as escorts-for-hire on Backpage.com. Investigators believe that's how Brown made contact with them. Phone records show their last calls were transmitted through wireless towers near Brown's home in Sterling Heights, Whiting said.

Brown has been in custody since May on charges of mutilation of a dead body and arson in connection to the bodies found in the cars. Prosecutors didn't charge Brown with murder at the time, but they said he was the chief suspect in the women's deaths.

Brown's attorney, Jeffery Cojocar, said before the hearing that Brown maintains he did not kill the women. Cojocar described the prosecution's case as circumstantial, but he also suggested Brown may have incriminated himself during a 3 1/2-hour recorded interview with Detroit police. He said he would try to get the statements suppressed.

"There are some things that are not favorable that we'll need to attack," Cojocar said.

On Christmas Day, six days after the bodies of Hunt and Landers were found, investigators found the bodies of two other women in their 20s, Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary, stuffed in the trunk of a burning car.

Before the court hearing, authorities met privately with victims' relatives in a small room.

"The parents and relatives of these women have suffered so greatly," Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said. "We will work to bring closure to these grieving families."

Hunt's mother, Denise Reid, said she didn't know anything about her daughter's connection to Backpage.com.

"I'm hearing it like you are," she said. "It's not important to me. It's not relevant. It still doesn't justify taking my daughter's life."

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