Thurston Lamont Yerby, 47, of the 11000 block of South Laurel Drive, faces first- and second-degree murder charges, and other charges after being arrested Sept. 12 in Northeast Washington during a traffic stop.
Yerby is charged in connection with the May double homicide of James Vell Ferguson, 42, and Tina Lynn Towler, 45, who lived together in the 9600 block of Muirkirk Road. According to police, their bodies were discovered on the morning of May 2 by a nurse performing a welfare check on Towler’s 25-year-old daughter, Jasmine Gilbert, who has cerebral palsy and lived with the couple, but was uninjured in the incident.
Police said both Ferguson and Towler suffered multiple upper body injuries “consistent with defense wounds,” leading them to categorize it as a homicide.
Police said Yerby, who was believed to have had a romantic relationship with Towler, was immediately a suspect, but his arrest was delayed while DNA evidence collected at the scene was processed.
“At this point, the exact motive is unclear, but we think that the romantic relationship played some sort of involvement in these crimes,” police spokeswoman Julie Parker said at a press conference last week.
According to police, DNA evidence played a pivotal role in the investigation. Police collected DNA from multiple items that are suspected of having been used in the slayings, including a knife and other household items. Police also collected DNA evidence from materials Yerby allegedly used to attempt to clean up the crime scene, according to Parker.
Surveillance video also implicates Yerby, according to police.
“Video captured Yerby’s truck coming to and from the apartment complex during the time of the murders,” Parker said.
Police said Gilbert, who is currently in the custody of the state, may have witnessed the crime, but because she is incapacitated, police were unable to interview her.
In an interview in May, Towler’s estranged husband, Jay Towler, 54, of Laurel, said Gilbert has trouble seeing, but if something happened, she heard it.
For Towler, news of the arrest is bittersweet as he said he’s been friends with Yerby for eight to 10 years.
“I’m torn and kind of in shock,” Towler said. “We worked together for quite awhile. I know his family and everything. You hope it’s not true; but if it is, he’s got to go.”
Towler said he had no knowledge of Yerby’s relationship with Tina Towler, and that he never thought Yerby capable of the crime.
Yerby is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Oct. 16, but could be indicted by a grand jury before then.
Maj. Cesar Pacheco, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, said the closure of the case was due to the hard work from police’s homicide unit.
“There is a great sense of relief — particularly when you have such a crime of violence such as a double homicide,” he said. “Those don’t occur that often, particularly under these circumstances.”
While typically rare, the South Laurel double homicide was the second double homicide reported in Laurel in May. Less than two weeks after the incident, Ronald Lee Rainey, 59, of the 16100 block of Malcolm Drive in West Laurel, was charged in the May 13 fatal shooting of his wife, Lisa Rainey, 50, and her daughter, Ariale Chantre Shelton, 27.
Rainey is scheduled for trial on Dec. 3.
This story has been updated.