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MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (AP) — A man convicted of killing four women whom he met through an online escort site opted to stay in his jail cell Tuesday when a Detroit-area judge sentenced him to life in prison in a courtroom packed with victims' relatives.
James Brown's voluntary no-show, while unusual, is legal — and it wasn't surprising to the mother of one of his victims.
"I don't blame him — I wouldn't show up either," said Denise Higgins, who spoke in court about Brown and her family's pain over losing Vernithea McCrary.
After the sentencing, Higgins said she wished she could have seen Brown's reaction to getting life in prison, but that his actions and absence only prove "the guy has no respect for life, period."
The other victims in the December 2011 slayings were Renisha Landers, Demesha Hunt and Natasha Curtis, all in their 20s. The women met Brown through Backpage.com, which carries personal ads for people looking for sex.
Authorities said Brown killed the women in pairs, just days apart at his Sterling Heights home while his mother was upstairs. The bodies, stuffed in car trunks, were left miles away in a Detroit neighborhood. Two were found in a car that had been set on fire, and they were burned so badly they couldn't be recognized.
Authorities believe the women were asphyxiated.
Brown, 26, was convicted in February of first-degree murder, arson and disinterment of a body after a three-week trial in a Macomb County court.
Defense attorney Jeff Cojocar said Brown already knew he would be sentenced to life and stayed at the jail because he didn't want to experience any emotional outbursts from victims' relatives. There were cheers and sobs when a jury convicted him.
"It was a volatile situation. He doesn't want to be around that environment," Cojocar told The Associated Press before the sentencing, adding that he's never had a client skip a sentencing in his 18 years as a lawyer.
Judge James Biernat Jr. said he was disappointed that he could only sentence Brown to life.
"It's almost like he's getting a break somehow," Biernat said in court before handing down the sentence. "The man is nothing but a coward."
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.
Authorities found Brown's DNA under the fingernails of two victims, and tiny drops of blood from another victim were on a pillow and a door in his basement. Brown made incriminating statements about getting rid of the bodies, although he denied any role in the deaths.
Higgins said her daughter thought Brown was "a friend" and "somebody she felt she could trust."
"Mr. Brown proved her wrong," the mother said.
She said she's had a difficult time trying to comfort her daughter's children, including a 3-year-old boy she described as autistic.
"One day, one day I'm going to have to try to get him to understand why one day she walked out the door and (they) never saw her again," Higgins said. "You know who he asked for? He goes to a picture and he asks for his mama."
Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.
Follow Jeff Karoub at https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub .
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