Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Suspects arraigned at murder hearings

DALLAS — The two Independence men accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing James W. Hawkes were arraigned on grand jury indictments in Polk County Circuit Court Friday afternoon.

January 14, 2014

DALLAS — The two Independence men accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing James W. Hawkes were arraigned on grand jury indictments in Polk County Circuit Court Friday afternoon.

Zachery T. Mersch, 24, and Jimmy D. Fears, 44, are now both charged with four counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping and one count of second-degree abuse of a corpse in the death of Hawkes, also an Independence resident.

Fears is facing additional charges of third-degree escape, interfering with a peace officer and resisting arrest, all misdemeanors, in a separate but related incident.

Mersch entered a plea of not guilty to the charges Friday, while Fears deferred entering a plea.

Zackery T. Mersch

Zackery T. Mersch

"We acknowledge the receipt of the indictment, but seek a period of time to file motions against the indictment and decline to enter a plea at this time," said Fears' lawyer, Steven Krasik, noting he needed time to review the prosecution's evidence in the case before filing motions.

Neither defendant spoke at Friday's hearings.

The pair was arrested Dec. 30, a day after Hawkes' body was found in a wooded area behind Pedee Cemetery. Both told police in separate statements they were involved in the kidnapping, beating and killing of Hawkes, and disposal of his body afterward.

The alleged incident took place on Dec. 11, beginning at the Courtesy Inn in Monmouth and moving to where they left his body. According to their statements, Fears and Mersch had learned that Hawkes was a confidential informant for the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team.

Jimmy D. Fears

Jimmy D. Fears

The indictment seems to suggest that was at least one of the motives for the crimes. The first count of aggravated murder on both indictments states the defendants "did unlawfully and intentionally cause the death of James Watson Hawkes … who was a witness in a criminal proceeding, the death being related to the performance of the official duties of (Hawkes) in the justice system." The second count of the charge states the death was the result of "intentional torture," while the third count said Hawkes was killed to cover up the kidnapping.

James W. Hawkes

James W. Hawkes

The charge of aggravated murder carries a possible sentence of death, life in prison, or life with a 30-year minimum. A murder charge carries a sentence of life with a 25-year minimum.

Judge Norm Hill, who has been assigned the case, set the next court date for Mersch and Fears, pretrial conferences scheduled for Feb. 10 at 4 p.m. A tentative trial date is set of Feb. 19, but that will likely be rescheduled, Hill said.

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