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Fairfax murder trial features love triangle, DNA, mystery

The horrible homicide of Erika Yancey, in which her throat was slashed in the Herndon area in November 2008, has finally come to trial in Fairfax County.

But after four days of testimony about an "unconventional" love triangle, a pile of blood and DNA evidence, and a bloodhound leading investigators practically to the suspect's door, clear cut conclusions about who killed Yancey are still hard to come by.

The trial resumes Monday morning in Fairfax Circuit Court.

Yancey was a 22-year-old baggage handler for Delta Air Lines at Dulles International Airport. In the spring of 2008, she met another Dulles worker, Ellen Phillips, on the website They struck up a friendship, met in person, and “eventually it became more intimate,” Phillips said.

Things got sticky. Phillips was living with her longtime boyfriend, Marcus Williams, and their two small children in an apartment in the Camden-Dulles complex on Dulles Station Boulevard in the Herndon area. Yancey was living out of her car. In the summer of 2008, Williams and Phillips invited Yancey to live with them.

Soon, Phillips said, Yancey and Phillips were sleeping together in the master bedroom, while Williams took the open bedroom in the three-bedroom apartment.

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney John R. Murphy said Williams and Phillips were breaking up. Phillips made plans to move out with the kids, and she said that if Yancey couldn’t find a place of her own, Yancey could move in with them. Williams planned to stay at the Camden, Phillips testified.

On Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008, Yancey disappeared. She dropped Phillips off for work at Dulles and never returned to the Camden. On Monday, maintenance workers testified that they noticed someone had heavily cleaned up a couple of indoor parking spaces, including the use of bleach, and police officers found spots of blood nearby. But no Yancey.

When police searched the apartment building’s trash compactor, they found Yancey’s bloodstained clothes, her car keys, a pair of bloody shoes and a bloody box-cutter. But no Yancey.

Yancey’s Hyundai Elantra was found about a half-mile away, early on Nov. 19, 2008. She was lying in the back seat, covered by a blanket.

A human scent-trained bloodhound was brought in, and Officer Marshall Thielen said the dog led him directly back to the Camden-Dulles parking lot, where police had found the blood two days earlier, and then to the door to the apartments.

The clothes with Yancey’s blood also had DNA from Williams and his longtime friend Michael Thomas on them. Prosecutors in September 2009 indicted both men for murder. Williams is on trial first.

Murphy theorized in his opening statement that the person who killed Yancey in the garage acted in ways “that only make sense if you live there.” The killer cleaned up a bloody scene, then entered the electronically locked building and tossed the blood-covered items in a trash chute inside the building.

Murphy said Williams was upset after learning that Yancey and Phillips had spent a romantic evening together in an expensive hotel two weeks earlier for Yancey’s birthday.

“Marcus Williams is innocent,” said one his defense lawyers, Magennis Williams. She said Marcus Williams never threatened or was violent toward Yancey. She also said, and Phillips confirmed, that Yancey liked to wear men’s clothes, including the defendant’s clothes, perhaps explaining why Williams’ DNA was on Yancey’s bloody garments.

Phillips also said the building’s electronic doors often were propped open as people moved in and out of apartments.

Phillips also testified that Yancey and Williams got along well together, that “Marcus would never hurt a fly,” and that she and Williams moved in together with her mother after Yancey’s slaying. Phillips also said she had had lesbian relationships before and that Williams knew of them.

The defense begins its case this week, and then the jury will try to begin solving the riddle of Erika Yancey’s murder.

-- Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  May 3, 2010; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , From the Courthouse , Homicide , Tom Jackman , Updates  
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