Preliminary hearing begins for man accused of killing woman he met online

Franchesca Brown felt excited about traveling to Overland Park last September.

Professionally, Brown, a pediatrician from Myrtle Beach, S.C., was preparing for a big career step. Personally, she was ready to take another big step in her relationship with a man she had met online.

But when her sisters went to the airport a week later to greet her on her return, Brown, 39, never got off the plane.

Johnson County prosecutors on Monday alleged that the man who accompanied Brown on that trip used a computer to research how to strangle or suffocate someone.

Four days after those searches happened, Brown’s family reported her missing. Authorities later found her body near the College Boulevard hotel where she had stayed.

The man who had accompanied her on the trip later was arrested after traveling to South America.

On Monday, that man, John Meredith Hodges, appeared in Johnson County District Court for a preliminary hearing on a charge of first-degree murder in Brown’s death.

Hodges, 45, tried to waive the hearing, but District Attorney Steve Howe objected and began presenting evidence to District Judge James Franklin Davis, who will decide whether Hodges will go to trial.

With members of Brown’s family looking on, Hodges spent most of the afternoon with his face buried in his hands while sitting with his attorney, District Defender Michael McCulloch.

Before the hearing began, Hodges told Davis that he wanted to make a statement to his “extended family” in Colombia. He then delivered a short statement in Spanish.

Key testimony came from an analyst with the Heart of America Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory who examined a laptop that Hodges had with him when he was arrested in Colombia.

James Schneider, a detective with the Lawrence Police Department, testified that on Sept. 4, several Google searches were done on the computer using such terms as “How long does it take to choke someone to death?” and “How long does it take to suffocate someone?”

Schneider testified that those searches were done early Sept. 4.

The next search on the computer was about 90 minutes later, when someone entered terms that included “How to wrap a dead body not to smell,” Schneider testified.

That day, the computer had used a wireless connection at the Hawthorne Suites in Overland Park, Schneider testified. That was where Brown was staying, according to earlier testimony.

Kendria Dickens-Carr, a doctor who said she and Brown were best friends, testified that Brown met Hodges in 2008 on the website MillionaireMatch.com.

Brown dated another man for several years before she and Hodges reconnected in August.

“He told her that he loved her. He told her over and over again,” Dickens-Carr testified. “She felt they had a lot of chemistry.”

Dickens-Carr said Brown called Hodges “Charleston” because the only other time they met in person was in the South Carolina city.

Dickens-Carr said that after not hearing from Brown for several days, she texted her friend and asked, “Are you alive?” Brown responded that she was OK and said Hodges told her he had a surprise for her.

Dickens-Carr said that was the last time she heard from her friend.

Brown’s sister Carla Brown testified that when her sister was in Kansas, she texted that she and Hodges were planning to get a house together in South Carolina. Franchesca Brown also said she was going to bring Hodges to the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“She had never, ever done that,” Carla Brown said.

Overland Park police detective Jesse Rollwagen was one of the officers who traveled to Colombia to bring Hodges back to Kansas to face charges.

In response to questions from Hodges’ attorney, Rollwagen said Hodges talked about abusing prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Percocet.

“He said he was eating 20 Percocet a day,” Rollwagen testified.

Testimony in the preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue today. Besides first-degree murder, Hodges also is charged with eight counts of identity theft, computer crime and two counts of criminal use of a credit card. He is being held in the county jail on a $25 million bond, according to court records.