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A James City County man pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit capital murder for his role in the killing of Dana Patterson Mackay in her Seasons Trace home in July 2013.
Gregory Andrew Crawford, 26, reached a plea agreement with the prosecution Tuesday, one day ahead of his scheduled trial at Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.
The agreement drops one charge of capital murder in exchange for a guilty plea on one count of conspiracy to commit capital murder, which is defined as a murder charge that carries the possibility of the death penalty.
Crawford initially pleaded not guilty to both charges and requested a jury trial, which had been scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Crawford was one of four individuals arrested in connection with the death of Dana Mackay. The other three include her husband John Mackay, his girlfriend Nicole Houchin and Nace Houchin, who is Nicole Houchin’s husband – all of whom have pleaded guilty.
More than 18 months after the murder, James City County Police arrested and charged Crawford, who is believed to have been involved in plotting the murder and the one who broke into Mackay’s house. Investigators also believe he is the one who disposed of the murder weapon and clothing worn during the incident, throwing the former into the James River and burning the latter.
On the evening of July 27, 2013, a neighbor discovered the body of Dana Mackay in the bedroom of her Seasons Trace home after being asked by Mackay’s mother to check in on her. Dana Mackay was recovering from surgery at the time, and her mother became concerned after not hearing from her all day.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green stated James City County Police found Mackay’s body face-up, completely undressed and covered in “a tremendous amount of blood.”
Blood was also smeared on the walls and the bedroom door had been kicked in, indicating to investigators a struggle had taken place. Mackay’s cause of death was ruled to be multiple blunt force and sharp force injuries to the head.
Two days after the body was discovered, police charged John Mackay, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Eustis, and Nicole Houchin in connection with the case.
Mackay and Houchin admitted to investigators they were having an affair and had “fantasized” about killing Dana, but initially denied involvement in her murder.
A co-worker of John’s came forward during the investigation to provide police with a cell phone he had borrowed from him. The cell phone contained “love notes” between Mackay and Houchin the coworker initially thought little of, Green said, but upon further investigation their correspondence revealed evidence of a plot to get Dana “out of the picture.”
“Will she be gone before I get back?” “I’ll be forever in debt to you and will show you every day,” John Mackay is said to have written. “Trying to make it happen asap,” Nicole Houchin replied, according to a criminal complaint filed against her in Williamsburg-James City County District Court.
Several months after the initial arrests, Nace Houchin was also charged in the murder. Nace Houchin, who was also a staff sergeant stationed at Fort Eustis, was arrested in September 2013 on charges unrelated to the case after going AWOL from his post. His girlfriend later came forward and told police it he admitted his involvement in the murder to her just prior to his arrest.
Nace Houchin, along with Nicole and a man who would later be identified as Crawford, broke into the Mackays’ home on the evening of the murder. Nicole Houchin and Crawford remained downstairs while Nace Houchin went upstairs and carried out the crime, in the course of which he used breaker bar, a tool similar to a socket wrench, to beat and stab Dana to death.
Nicole Houchin said John Mackay had agreed to pay Nace Houchin and Crawford $20,000 for carrying out the murder. A handwritten confession later found in Nace’s wallet corroborated this story.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the prosecution dropped the charge of capital murder and Crawford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit capital murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Prosecutors in the case have requested Crawford be sentenced at the same time as John Mackay, Nicole Houchin and Nace Houchin, who all also entered into plea deals with the prosecution.
Though Crawford’s co-defendants initially pleaded not guilty, all three eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree murder as part of deals that allowed them to avoid facing the death penalty. They also agreed to disclose everything they knew about the case as part of the deal, which is how prosecutors were able to bring charges against Crawford.
A date for sentencing is expected to be set at a hearing Nov. 4.