By Tracy Rucinski
CROWN POINT, Ind. (Reuters) - A convicted sex offender suspected of killing seven women in Indiana will stand trial for murder on June 22, a Lake County judge said on Friday.
Darren Vann, 43, of Gary, has been charged with the murders of Afrikka Hardy, 19, and Anith Jones, 35, who both died by strangulation. He has pleaded not guilty.
Hardy's body was found in a motel room in Hammond, Indiana, last October, after which police said Vann led them to the bodies of six other women in abandoned buildings in neighboring Gary, a poverty-struck city about 25 miles southeast of Chicago. The women included Jones.
Vann, shackled and wearing grey-and-black prison stripes, smiled widely as he looked around the courtroom of Lake County Criminal Judge Diane Boswell on Friday. He is suspected in the deaths of the five other women but has not yet been charged.
Some of the remains were so badly decomposed that it has been difficult for officials to determine the cause of death. The last two of the seven victims were identified in February.
Police are also looking into his claims that he has killed more people in the past two decades.
Vann served five years in prison in Texas and was released in 2013.
His next court hearing is on April 17, and a pretrial conference has been scheduled for May 22.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Sandra Maler)