Serial killer pleads guilty; conviction in cop killing case
A serial killer’s guilty plea closed Lake County’s last death penalty case of 2018 in the deaths of seven women left scattered in abandoned buildings in Gary.
As his trial loomed in the fall, attorneys prepared to try Darren Vann, 47, in the 2014 killings of Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville; Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 2 7, of Highland.
But in May, attorneys announced a plea agreement in the case and Vann pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder. Rather than potentially facing the death penalty, Vann was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Marvin Clinton, Batey’s fiance, sat through nearly four years of hearings as the case progressed. With Vann’s sentencing, Clinton said he and the families of the other women who were killed stayed in touch over the years until they had some some closure.
“He had no right to play God on none of these women,” Clinton, who has a son with Batey, said at the sentencing hearing May 25.
The investigation into Vann began after Hardy’s body was found in the bathtub of a Motel 6 in Hammond on Oct. 17, 2014. Vann then led investigators to bodies of the other six women he left in abandoned houses in Gary.
Since Batey died, Clinton has tended a memorial of crosses and teddy bears outside the house where Batey’s skeletal remains were found on East 19th Avenue.
“He don’t have a heart. He don’t have a soul,” Clinton said about Vann.
Vann chose not to attend his sentencing. He waived his appearances at many of his hearings, sending his defense team in his place. At a hearing last year, Vann was was held in contempt of court after an outburst, telling prosecutors, “Don’t say something you can’t back up. You say you’re gonna give me death. Go ahead and kill me, (expletive).”
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said, “Darren Vann, by all accounts, is an evil, psychotic, serial predator.”
The plea deal for Vann was negotiated up until the final moments with late night phone calls and text messages to iron out the details, attorneys said. Even the day of the hearing, prosecutors and the women’s families said they weren’t sure Vann was going to go through with it until they heard the words come out of his mouth.
As part of Vann’s plea deal, prosecutors agreed “to refrain from filing any additional charges in Lake County” against him “unless it is a charge related to a homicide,” but in that possibility “the state will refrain from filing the death penalty,” according to the deal.
The defense, prosecutors and the women’s families said, though, what helped lead to the agreement they all could agree to was the idea of having finality in the case.
Later in the year, lawyers and community members were shocked when longtime attorney T. E d - ward Page, 64, was fatally shot Aug. 15 outside his Hobart home.
William Landske, Page’s friend and client, had gone to the house to collect tax documents, police said. Page prepared tax returns for Landske, 83, and his late wife, former state Sen. Dorothy “Sue” Landske, for decades, court records show.
Landske asked Page whether the two could talk, police said. Landske reportedly put his arm around Page, pulled a silver revolver out of his pocket and shot Page in the stomach, according to police.
Landske told investigators he was “dissatisfied with how Judge Page wasn’t handling his tax affairs in a timely matter,” and when he saw the bags of documents in Page’s house that day, “that’s when I went over the deep end,” court records show.
Roughly 200 mourners gathered at McClelland Masonic Lodge in Hobart to remember Page after his death. Landske was charged days later with Page’s murder.
A special judge, Benton County Circuit Judge Rex W. Kepner, was appointed to preside in the case of Landske, a former Cedar Lake Town Council member. Landske is scheduled for trial in May, court records show.
James Hill, 55, went to trial in August in the decades-old slaying of an offduty Hammond police officer, Lawrence Pucalik.
Pucalik was working a side security job Nov. 14, 1980, at a Holiday Inn in Hammond when two men with handguns came in and demanded money from the register, according to court records.
Pucalik walked into the lobby, and as he attempted to access his firearm, he was shot by one of the suspects, according to court records.
Hill was sentenced in October to 47 years in prison after prosecutors said he was the getaway driver for the other two men who went inside. But Hill has maintained his innocence, asking for a new trial, which a judge rejected.
Hill’s co-defendant Pierre Catlett was brought brought back to Indiana to face charges in Pucalik’s death after serving a lengthy Illinois prison sentence. Catlett, 68, pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court again in January.
The third co-defendant, Larry Mayes, 69, was found incompetent to stand trial after he had a stroke.
In February, Kelly Cochran, 36, was returned to Indiana to face charges in her husb a n d ’s death that she had initially c l a i me d was a suic i d e. When she returned to Lake County, Cochran was already serving a life sentence in Michigan without the possibility of parole for the murder of her boyfriend, Christopher Regan, in 2014.
Cochran claimed she murdered her husband, Jason Cochran, 37, as revenge for killing Regan, by giving Jason Cochran a fatal overdose of heroin Feb. 20, 2016, in Hobart and put her hands on his neck, nose and mouth until he died.
Kelly Cochran struck a plea deal in Lake County in her husband’s death and was sentenced in May to 65 years in prison.
“I will die in prison. I’ve accepted that fate,” Cochran said at her sentencing hearing.
In Porter County, Kevin Campbell, a former police officer in Hammond and Gary, was sentenced in April to 55 years in prison for the murder of Tiara Thomas, the mother of three of his children.
Thomas, 30, was found shot Nov. 18, 2015, in the bedroom of her Portage apartment she shared with her fiance, Marqtell Rob- inson.
At his sentencing, Campbell, 34, claimed he was innocent. But his appeal was later denied.
Campbell’s trial in Valparaiso became emotional as he and his oldest son with Thomas each took the stand.
From his children, Campbell learned Robinson’s work schedule and got a key to the apartment to get in when Thomas was alone, prosecutors said, and used taking his children to school as an alibi when he shot Thomas while she slept.
Campbell was “drowning financially” in the months leading up to Thomas’ death, prosecutors said, with his car repossessed, calls from bill collectors and increased child support payments to Thomas. Prosecutors argued this spoke to his motive.
In Lake County, Guy Mikulich, 39, pleaded guilty but mentally ill in May from a 2016 hit-and-run crash at the Gary Air Show that injured a man. He received no jail time as part of his plea agreement.
Mikulich, a member of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, was in uniform when he struck Derrick Dircks, of Frankfort Square, Ill., with his countyissued unmarked Ford Crown Victoria and fled the scene on July 10, 2016, after Mikulich had worked security at the air show. Dircks was packing up his minivan on Oak Avenue with his family when he was struck, the deal states.
Maureen Dircks, Derrick Dircks’ wife, described how the incident impacted her family at Mikulich’s disciplinary hearings and in his criminal case.
“My children watched in horror as their father laid unconscious on the ground, thinking he was dead,” she said.
Mikulich apologized to the family at his sentencing, telling them, “I’m so, so sorry. The only thing that I want is your forgiveness.”
In East Chicago, David Anderson, 11, was fatally shot May 5 while standing in a gazebo at Nunez Park, where he had been playing basketball that day. A fight broke out between two groups of juveniles, and Anderson was struck in the head when one of them pulled out a gun, court records show.
LaTanya Anderson said her son was a “straight-A student” who was on the honor roll at George Washington Elementary School.
“He didn’t want to do a ny t h i n g exc e p t p l ay basketball and eat noodles,” she said.
Sherquell Magee, 17, was charged with Anderson’s murder and was denied bail in November after a hearing where attorneys played surveillance video of the shooting.
Derrick Cardosi, 26, is scheduled to make his appeal before the Indiana Supreme Court Ja n . 10 from a 2016 triple homicide in Newton County.
Cardosi appealed after a jury convicted him in February in the Aug. 28, 2016, stabbings of Justine Lee Babbs, 20, Richard Thomas, 23, and Kimberley Sparks, 29, in Sumava Resorts. Cardosi was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said that Cardosi and his co-defendant, Sebastian Wedding, had planned to rob Thomas of drugs and money.
Wedding, 26, was sentenced last year to 55 years in prison after striking a plea agreement.
Marvin Clinton stands near a memorial he built in front of the Gary home where the body of his fiance, Teaira Batey, was found in 2014.
Mourners gathered in May for a vigil after David Anderson, 11, was fatally shot at an East Chicago park.