STROUDSBURG — To prove a Tobyhanna man is the one who killed and dismembered a woman and left her body parts in trash bags dumped alongside area interstates, Monroe County prosecutors want seven other women he has been charged with assaulting in the past to testify against him.
But Monroe County and state Superior courts have ruled the prosecution can have only three of the women testify, with the county court contradicting itself as to why.
Now First Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso is appealing the lower courts’ rulings in state Supreme Court in the case of Charles Hicks, 39, who’s awaiting trial on charges of murdering Deanna Null, 36, in 2008.
Mancuso’s appeal maintains the testimony of these seven other women is a factor a jury would consider when determining if Null’s death was an accident or if Hicks had a motive or intent to kill her.
The district attorney is seeking the death penalty for Hicks. If he is convicted, the women’s testimony could be crucial in the jury’s decision between execution or life without parole.
Troubled and having turned to drugs and prostitution, Null was last seen in January 2008 in Scranton, getting into a vehicle with a man witnesses believed to be Hicks, according to information gathered by police.
On Jan. 29, a human head, arms, legs and torso were found in separate trash bags dumped alongside interstates 380 and 80.
The body parts were later identified as Null’s, and the investigation led police to Hicks as the suspect. Hicks was charged more than a month later after severed hands identified as Null’s were found wrapped in old newspaper in his home.
Police said Hicks told them he and Null had smoked crack cocaine and had sex, but that he’s not the one who killed her. He said he would wait until he has a lawyer prior to explaining how Null’s severed hands came to be in his home, but police have not said if he has ever given an explanation.
Police looked into Hicks’ background and found seven other women he had been charged with assaulting in Texas. One such assault happened in 2001 or 2002 and involved a woman using the name Karen Lovell.
“The manner of assault (on Lovell and the six other women) consisted primarily of choking and beating with the hands, similar to the blunt force trauma suffered by Deanna Null,” Mancuso’s appeal states. “Many of the other victims were prostitutes like Deanna. Many of the circumstances of the crimes against these women involved the use of illegal narcotics such as crack cocaine. The sexual issues appear to be part of the motive for the assaults on women.”
Mancuso notified defense attorney Bill Sayer of his intent to present these women’s testimony at trial, to which Sayer filed a motion asking the court to exclude that testimony as more prejudicial than probative.
The now-retired Ronald Vican, Monroe County president judge at the time, allowed testimony from Lovell and two other women. Vican barred testimony from the rest, calling it cumulative and therefore unnecessary, Mancuso said.
Mancuso appealed before Vican, saying Vican should have waited until after hearing testimony from all seven women prior to ruling.
Vican responded by reversing his reasoning but not his conclusions on excluding the other four women. He now said the testimony should remain excluded because it differs from that of the other three women, rather than being cumulative, according to Mancuso.
Mancuso next appealed to state Superior Court, which upheld Vican’s decision despite his contradictory reasoning.
Mancuso has since filed an appeal in state Supreme Court and is awaiting a decision.