MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – Loud cheers and sobs broke the calm of the courtroom Friday as a Detroit-area man was convicted of killing four women in his basement and stuffing their bodies in car trunks after he met them through online escort ads.
Police said James Brown killed the women in pairs, just days apart, at his Sterling Heights home in December 2011 while his mother was upstairs. The bodies were left miles away in a Detroit neighborhood. Two were burned beyond recognition when a car was set on fire.
Brown, 25, was convicted of first-degree murder, arson and disinterment of a body after a three-week trial in Macomb County court. He faces life in prison with no chance for parole when he returns on April 15.
"I wish they had the electrocutin' chair. I want a life for a life. He needs to die," said Chikita Madison, the mother of one victim and the aunt of another.
Denise Higgins, the mother of another victim, said: "Why God has put us through this, I don't understand."
The jury deliberated less than four hours over two days after Thursday's closing arguments. Judge James Biernat Jr. told spectators to keep a lid on their emotions, but the warning didn't stop some family members and friends from loudly expressing delight as the verdict was read.
"Yes!" one man yelled after the first of 10 guilty verdicts was announced by the jury foreman.
The women who were killed were Renisha Landers, Demesha Hunt, Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary, all in their 20s. They met Brown through Backpage.com, which carries personal ads for people looking for sex.
"I told her this was not a suitable way of meeting a guy," Higgins said, referring to McCrary. "There are sick people out there."
Brown was arrested about five months after the killings, but the trial revealed that police quickly had suspected him and put him under surveillance based on the women's phone records. Detroit's police chief at the time, Ralph Godbee, said he was disgusted that a city already struggling with an awful reputation for crime had become a dumping ground for homicide victims from the suburbs.
Authorities found Brown's DNA under the nails of two victims and tiny drops of blood from another were on a pillow and a door in his basement. He made incriminating statements about getting rid of the bodies, although he denied any role in their deaths.
Doctors who performed autopsies believe the women were asphyxiated by Brown, who is 6 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 340 pounds, but they couldn't declare an exact cause of death. Defense attorney Jeff Cojocar repeatedly made that point to the jury.
Cojocar said he respected the jury's decision but still believed he had raised reasonable doubt about Brown's guilt.
"What's a little weird is he lived for 23 years and had no trouble of any kind. He's going to go crazy for seven days and kill four women? It doesn't make sense to me," Cojocar said.
Assistant prosecutor Therese Tobin believes Brown was capable of killing more women.
"Four people makes you a serial killer," she said after the verdict. "I don't think you can kill four people and stop, but I'll leave that to psychologists."
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