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Since Judy Rush disappeared from her Columbia Heights apartment in August 2007, police had a suspect in mind. It was boyfriend Mo Hicks, a felon who had been convicted of bank robbery in the mid 1990s.

Now, three and a half years later, Hicks is in jail, charged Wednesday with second-degree murder.

Police had interviewed him twice early in the investigation, and his story changed, they said. Although a judge ruled Rush was deceased a year after she was reported missing, her body couldn't be found. Then, this month, a group of high school students hiking for an outdoor study class came across skeletal remains that DNA testing determined were those of the 56-year-old Rush.

Police, who had already built a case against Hicks, picked him up this week.

Hicks, 35, of St. Paul, made his first court appearance Wednesday in Anoka County. In bail discussions, prosecutor Wade Kish brought up Hicks' criminal history, including convictions for assault, attempted burglary and bank robbery. He also has had 13 warrants issued for his arrest.

Hicks' attorney argued that his client had been "off the criminal radar" since 2005 and has a good job. In the end, Judge Alan Pendleton set bail at $1 million.

The medical examiner's office said Wednesday that the cause of Rush's death was blunt-force cranial injuries.

Relatives of Hicks and Rush couldn't be reached for comment.

According to criminal charges filed against Hicks:

The saga of Rush's death started the evening of Aug. 22, 2007, when police were called to check on her welfare. She hadn't been seen for days. When police entered her apartment, they found her purse upside down on a table, opened drawers and blood stains on the floor and in her bedroom. Police also discovered bloody footprints, the criminal complaint said.

Neighbors said Hicks and Rush had worked together. Rush's daughter told police during that investigation that Rush and Hicks were friends and that she had last seen her mother Aug. 2.

Hicks agreed to talk to police, discussing his relationship with Rush. According to the charges, police noticed that his footwear was consistent with the bloody prints found at the crime scene.

He said he last saw Rush on Aug. 2, 2007. They drank and spent the night together and then he went to his mother's house, he told police, according to the criminal complaint. He told her he would come back later, but said that nobody was in the apartment when he returned. He told police he didn't notice blood in the bedroom.

During a second interview with police, Hicks said he had not harmed Rush. He acknowledged that he lied to police in his initial interview and had not spent the night with Rush, the charges said. He said he had driven to Minneapolis to buy drugs in the evening and didn't return to Rush's apartment until the next day, according to the complaint.

When he returned to her apartment later that same day to give her a ride, Hicks said he saw blood in the bedroom, according to the charges. He panicked because he feared "others would think he was involved in something." He told police he took items from the apartment that he believed had his fingerprints on them and threw them in a Dumpster behind the apartment building, the charges said.

A few days later, police discovered a blood-stained sheet at his mother's apartment, where he lived. The medical examiner had determined that a large amount of blood belonging to Rush and found in her bedroom proved she had been killed.

In July 2008, a judge ruled Rush was dead, although her body hadn't been found. The judge noted there was no evidence she was alive, such as financial transactions or family contact.

Earlier this month, high school students hiking in Brookdale Park in Brooklyn Park for an outdoor study class found remains in a flat area typically covered by tall grass near a drainage ditch. Heavy snow had flattened the grass, which is in a remote area of the park.

Police arrived to find skeletal remains in a shallow grave, the skull face down. Subsequent DNA testing determined the remains were Rush's.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465