STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — Phone records emerged Monday as key evidence in a murder case against a suburban man charged with killing four suspected escorts and hiding their bodies in car trunks in Detroit last year, events that reinforced the city's unflattering image as a dumping ground for victims.
James Brown, 24, was charged with first-degree murder Monday, six months after he was arrested on lesser charges. The women were killed in pairs last December after visiting Brown's Macomb County home, and their bodies were stashed that way, too, police said.
Chikita Madison, whose daughter Renisha Landers, 23, was a victim, said she fought back tears during a brief court hearing in Sterling Heights, a Detroit suburb.
"Our daughters are in heaven," Madison said outside of court. "We'll see them when it's our time."
The bodies of Landers and Demesha Hunt, 24, were found Dec. 19. Six days later, on Christmas, police found the bodies of two other women in their 20s, Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary, in the trunk of a burning car.
Brown said little in court and let his attorney enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
Minutes earlier, attorney Jeff Cojocar told reporters that his client maintains his innocence "100 percent."
At least three of the four victims promoted themselves as escorts-for-hire on Backpage.com, which carries classified and personal ads. Investigators believe that's how Brown made contact with them. Phone records show the victims' last calls were transmitted through wireless towers near Brown's home in Sterling Heights, police Det. Mary Whiting told a judge.
Brown has been in custody since May on charges of mutilation of a dead body and arson in connection to the bodies found in cars. Prosecutors didn't charge him with murder at the time but said he was the chief suspect.