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Mendota man charged in 3 deaths considered serial killer, sheriff says

Mendota man charged in 3 deaths considered serial killer, sheriff says

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ABINGDON, Va. -- The Mendota man charged in the deaths of three women in Washington County is considered a serial killer, Sheriff Fred Newman said this afternoon.

James Michael Wright, 23, is believed to have shot and killed three women over 18 days in February and March, Newman said during a news conference. 

Commonwealth's Attorney Josh Cumbow said it's early in the case but the death penalty is "definitely on the table."

Wright met the women, two from Tennessee and a 17-year-old from Georgia, while he was working as a subcontractor for a traveling circus, Newman said.

They were identified as Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter, 22, of Carter County, Tennessee; 17-year-old Joslyn M. Alsup, from Cobb County, Georgia; and Athina Hopson, 25, of Johnson City.

Vanmeter is believed to have been shot and killed around Feb. 28, Alsup is believed to have died on or about March 9, and Hopson is believed to have died around March 17, the sheriff said.

All are believed to have been shot and killed in Washington County.

The bodies of Vanmeter and Alsup have been found and autopsies are being conducted today, according to Newman. Hopson's body is believed to be in the North Fork of the Holston River and hasn't been found.

Wright, who confessed to the killings but claimed they were an accident, doesn't have a criminal history, the sheriff said.

During the news conference, Newman was surrounded by a host of representatives from law enforcement agencies in Virginia and Tennessee that have helped in the investigation or search.

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