Bucks man to face trial on murder charges

Posted: March 06, 2014

George Lewis, an inmate at the Bucks County prison, was earning $2.50 a day monitoring a prisoner on suicide watch when he offered the man a Jolly Rancher.

"You all right?" Lewis said he asked the man, who was lying on a bunk with his head down.

Lewis said the prisoner proceeded to tell him he had killed a woman and her 4-year-old daughter the day before.

"He started crying," Lewis said. "He said, 'I stabbed a baby in the chest. . . . She was too smart and could identify me.' "

Lewis, a criminal informant with a long rap sheet, was the key witness Tuesday as prosecutors asked a judge to approve murder charges for Marcel Johnson, 21, of Bristol Township. He is accused of fatally stabbing Ebony Capri Talley, 22, who was five months pregnant, and her daughter, R'Mani Rankins, Thanksgiving week at Talley's Levittown apartment.

The hearing, which included gruesome details from the victims' autopsies, offered no clues as to why Johnson may have wanted to commit the murders, although he knew Talley, police said.

But Lewis' testimony and that of two police officers was enough for District Judge Joanne Kline to send Johnson's case to Bucks County Court for trial.

Matt Weintraub, chief of prosecution for the District Attorney's Office, said he might seek the death penalty once Johnson is formally arraigned April 4.

Bristol Township police had pegged Johnson as a suspect the day of the slayings, Nov. 25, and locked him up within hours on unrelated charges involving drugs and unpaid parking tickets.

The police then built their case, which they say includes DNA evidence collected from under Johnson's fingernails that matches Talley's. Witnesses also placed him at the murder scene, police said. He was formally charged in January.

Johnson allegedly set fire to Talley's apartment after the killings. Officer Joe Dragon testified at Tuesday's hearing that he arrived at the Avalon Court Apartments after the report of a fire and saw a firefighter carrying out R'Mani's body. He said inside the apartment he saw Talley's body in a kneeling position on the ground of her bedroom with her face down.

Bristol Township Detective Tim Fuhrmann read aloud the autopsy reports for R'Mani, Talley, and Talley's unborn son, eliciting gasps and tears from family members who attended the hearing.

Talley died from multiple stab wounds, including one that struck her uterus, releasing amniotic fluid and contributing to the death of her baby. R'Mani suffered one stab wound to her chest.

Lewis, the criminal informant, testified that he and Johnson talked about the killings for three days while he was on suicide watch, although Johnson never elaborated on why he committed the murders.

Lewis has been in and out of prison since the 1980s for crimes including burglary and drug possession. He is in the Bucks County prison on misconduct charges committed during a longer stint there for fleeing and eluding police.

When pressed by Johnson's court-appointed attorneys, Lewis said he asked the police for leniency in return for his testimony. But he said that was not why he came forward.

"I felt sorry for what he had done to that woman and that baby," Lewis said.


bfinley@phillynews.com

610-313-8118 @Ben_Finley

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