A judge ruled Wednesday that Churchill, 52, can be tried for raping and strangling Ruby Ellis, 19, and Cheryl Hanible, 33. The women's bodies were found in March and April in 1989, respectively.
Prosecutors say that Churchill, who was living in Paulsboro in South Jersey when he was arrested, has been linked to both crimes by DNA. A DNA sample was taken when he was released after serving a sentence for burglary in DeKalb County in Georgia.
Richard Simmons, who was in prison with Churchill, testified at the preliminary hearing. He described listening to Churchill describe both killings in a conversation in the dayroom.
"One woman, he said, was a prostitute -- he said he didn't have the money or drugs to get a girl," Simmons said.
Churchill told him he killed the other woman "someplace inside." Hanible's body was found in a burned-out bar.
Wendy Ramos, Churchill's lawyer, grilled Simmons on why he is in protective custody, asking him if he is a "snitch." She also questioned him on his aliases -- or as Simmons called them, "discrepancies" -- and his lengthy criminal record.
Gwenn Cujdik, the prosecutor, read autopsy reports, causing obvious distress to relatives of the victims.
"It's been a long time," Cujdik said. "I think the families just hope to get some closure."
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