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Duo awaits grand jury

Independence pair facing charges in murder case

Map shows the approximate location of where the body of James W. Hawkes IV was discovered by an unidentified citizen the evening of Dec. 29 near Pedee.

Graphic by Kathy Huggins

Map shows the approximate location of where the body of James W. Hawkes IV was discovered by an unidentified citizen the evening of Dec. 29 near Pedee.

January 07, 2014

DALLAS — Both suspects charged with kidnapping and murdering an Independence man will be back in court this week, following a Polk County grand jury hearing of evidence in the case.

Jimmy D. Fears, 44, of Independence, with his lawyer, Steven Krasik, appeared for a brief hearing Thursday before Judge Sally Avera to schedule a preliminary hearing.

Jimmy D. Fears

Jimmy D. Fears

Zackery T. Mersch, 24, also of Independence, appeared before Judge Monte Campbell on Friday afternoon with his attorney, Geoffrey Gokey, also to schedule a future hearing.

They have been charged with aggravated murder, two counts of murder, first-degree kidnapping, and three counts of conspiracy to commit those crimes in the death of James W. Hawkes IV, 29, also of Independence. Fears is also charged with resisting arrest in a confrontation he and his daughter had with police when officers attempted to take him into custody on Dec. 30.

Zackery T. Mersch

Zackery T. Mersch

The grand jury meets Wednesday (today). If indicted, the defendants would be arraigned following the issuing of charges.

Both defendants are scheduled to next appear in court on Friday afternoon.

Hawkes' body was found by an unidentified male citizen Dec. 29 near Pedee Cemetery.

According to court documents, the suspects found out Hawkes had been working with the Polk County Inter-agency Narcotics Team as a confidential informant. He had recently participated in a "controlled buy" involving Fears.

When interviewed by police, Fears and Mersch both admitted to confronting Hawkes about being "a snitch" at the Courtesy Inn on Highway 99W in Monmouth on Dec. 11.

While they both describe similar circumstances, in their separate statements the suspects contradict each other regarding who was most involved in the kidnapping, brutal beating and disposal of Hawkes' body.

James W. Hawkes IV

James W. Hawkes IV

An autopsy was conducted Jan. 1, but the medical examiner's report regarding the official cause of death was still pending Friday, said Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton.

A probable cause affidavit included in court documents said the suspects accuse each other of repeatedly punching and using a stun gun on Hawkes. Then they tied Hawkes' hands and feet behind him 'hogtie' fashion, placed a sock or rag in his mouth, and bound his head with tape to keep him quiet.

According to the affidavit, Hawkes either died in the motel room or in the back of Fears' pickup after they moved him from the room - Fears told police Hawkes was still alive when they wrapped him in a blanket and carried him to the truck; Mersch said Hawkes was already dead at that point.

They drove to several places in Polk County looking for a place to hide the body, eventually choosing to place Hawkes in the woods behind the Pedee Cemetery. In the process, they removed all Hawkes' clothing except his boxer shorts.

Fears told police they drove back to the motel where Mersch disposed of the clothing, binding material, tape and rag used to gag Hawkes. Mersch told a different story, saying Fears drove him home and disposed of the clothing and other items later.

Felton declined to further comment on details in the case - including when and how the suspects discovered Hawkes was an informant -- citing the ongoing investigation into the crimes.

Hawkes' partially clothed body was found in the woods Sunday night by a male citizen, who called police. The Polk County Sheriff's deputy who responded to the scene recognized a tattoo Hawkes had on his upper right arm and was able to identify him with a recent Polk County Jail booking photo. Hawkes had been arrested Nov. 21 on failure to appear on a charge of possession of methamphetamine.

At that point, the Polk County Major Crimes Team took over the investigation. Initially, police called the death "suspicious," but it quickly became a murder investigation.

Fears and Mersch were both arrested the night of Dec. 30. Felton announced the arrests and charges the next day.

Both men remain in custody at the Polk County Jail.

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