Blood found on the bottom of a Harford County man's car links him to a second woman who was among four found dead in fields around Aberdeen last year, a revelation that came yesterday during a hearing leading up to the man's murder trial later this month.
Charles Eugene Burns, 35, is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Lillian Abramowicz Phelps, a 43-year-old Elkton woman whose body was the first of four found last year. Burns also has been charged with attacking and sexually assaulting six other women.
In a motion filed two weeks ago, Burns' public defenders said blood and human remains from "two sources" had been found on the bottom of his car. During yesterday's hearing in Harford County Circuit Court, it was revealed that one of the blood samples was from Phelps and another was from Jennifer Lynn Blankenship, a 25-year-old woman whose body was found near train tracks.
No one has been charged in Blankenship's killing, though investigators said last fall that they believed the four killings are linked and that a suspect was in custody. The disclosure marks the first time evidence linking Burns and another of the victims has been publicly presented.
Yesterday's hearing also forced prosecutors to reveal some details of their case against Burns in the Phelps killing. The trial is scheduled to begin April 17.
Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Hyle Marts told Judge Stephen M. Waldron that prosecutors believe Burns picked up Phelps and took her to a secluded location east of Aberdeen, where both got out of the car.
"She's laying on the ground at some point, still alive, and he runs her over with the vehicle," Marts said.
At issue during yesterday's hearing was whether a lock of hair that was found on Burns' car should be admitted as evidence in the trial.
The defense wants the hair sample, which was found wedged between a bolt and a stabilizer bar under the front end of Burns' Dodge Neon, excluded because it has not been identified. Public defender Lloyd G. Merriam argued that an unidentified sample would raise the question of another victim in the minds of jurors. Evidence of other crimes or victims is not admissible in determining Burns' guilt in the killing of Phelps, he said.
Merriam said the state had "carefully created" a troubling situation for the defense by not positively identifying the hair through DNA testing during the 10 months since it was recovered. Marts responded that prosecutors had offered to postpone the trial to conduct such testing, but the defense rejected the idea.
A state medical examiner testified yesterday that Phelps was killed by blunt-force injuries and described photos of her skull that showed two large holes on the right side of her head. Prosecutors contended that a bolt on the bottom of Burns' car caused the wounds, trapping a lock of her hair in the process.
Burns, who has been mild-mannered in recent hearings after lashing out at his attorneys and Waldron in an earlier court appearance, arrived in court unshackled for the first time and wearing a gray suit. His gaze remained fixed forward as pictures of his car and Phelps' skull were projected just over his left shoulder.
His adoptive parents attended the hearing, though they appeared not to make eye contact with him.
Phelps had gone to Havre de Grace to visit friends and never returned, members of her family have said. Her body was found June 14.
Investigators have said that Phelps and the other victims had been involved in prostitution. Only Blankenship had been charged with prostitution.
Marts said prosecutors have yet to receive the results of Blankenship's autopsy, preventing the investigation into her death from proceeding. "We can't charge without an autopsy," she said.
State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly added that Blankenship's case still is still being investigated. Her body was found Sept. 15.
Two other women, Sheila Ann Turner and Joyce Ann Toliver, were found dead in remote locations last year. There has been little information disclosed by investigators about their deaths.