A former Marine who authorities say preyed on women in an area of Gary, Indiana, known as a hangout for prostitutes and drug users pleaded guilty Friday to killing seven women under a plea deal that will spare him the death penalty.
Darren Vann’s surprise plea Friday in the killings came after the 47-year-old Gary man’s defense team filed a motion Thursday that scheduled Friday’s change of plea hearing.
The usually combative Vann was largely emotionless during Friday’s hearing as Lake County Judge Samuel Cappas reviewed the terms of the plea agreement that calls for him to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Vann is now set to be sentenced May 25.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said he hopes Friday’s plea agreement brings closure to the victims’ families.
Victims’ relatives watched quietly during Friday’s hearing as Vann uttered the word “guilty” seven times, once for each murder count read aloud by Cappas.
Marvin Clinton, who was the longtime boyfriend of one of the seven victims, 28-year-old Teaira Batey of Gary, wiped tears from his eyes outside the courtroom afterward, saying he’s relieved that Vann had finally admitted guilt in the killings.
Clinton, who had a son with Batey who’s now six, said he’s also relieved that Vann will receive a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
“(The death penalty) would have been the easy way out. I want him to suffer. These women will haunt him for the rest of his life,” he told The (Northwest Indiana) Times . “I prefer him to stay locked up, so when he goes to bed at night and closes his eyes, he sees these women.”
Vann was scheduled to stand trial in October in the strangulation deaths of Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Hammond, and Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for Vann in their deaths.
Vann was arrested in October 2014 as police in Hammond investigated the killing of Hardy, whose body was found in a bathtub inside a Hammond motel room.
When Hammond police arrested him, Vann told them he had killed six women in Gary within the previous year. According to a probable cause affidavit, Vann called the women “mistakes,” and told police he would lead them to the other victims.
During the next several days, Vann led authorities to the bodies of the six other northwest Indiana women, whose remains had been hidden in abandoned buildings in Gary.
Vann was also charged with killing Batey and four other Gary women: Tracy Martin, 41; Kristine Williams, 36; Sonya Billingsley, 53; and Tanya Gatlin, 27.
Vann allegedly targeted women who lived near an area of Gary where women gathered to engage in prostitution or take drugs, according to court documents filed in March 2016.
When asked by Hammond detectives why he started killing women in northwest Indiana, an affidavit quoted him as saying, “Just I guess, anger. ’Cause I feel I shouldn’t have went to prison the first time. You see what I’m saying?”
Vann had moved back to Gary after his July 2013 release from a Texas prison where he served time on a sexual assault charge involving a prostitute.
Vann served in the Marines but received an “other than honorable” discharge in 1993.