An ex-Philadelphia prison inmate testified Tuesday that Rudolph Churchill admitted raping and killing two North Philadelphia women in 1989 and bemoaned the fact that he would have gotten away with it but for DNA.

Richard Simmons, 44, described an April 2014 conversation he said he had with Churchill in a day room in the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center.

Simmons was awaiting trial on a charge of bringing marijuana into prison; Churchill had just been charged with raping and strangling 19-year-old Ruby Ellis and Cheryl Hanible, 33.

"He said he wouldn't have got caught if he didn't give his DNA," Simmons told the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury in the fifth day of testimony in the rape-murder trial of Churchill, 54, of Paulsboro, Gloucester County.

Churchill did not have a choice. His DNA was taken in 2007 when he was discharged from a prison in DeKalb County, Ga., where he did three years for burglary. Churchill's sample was sent to an FBI national DNA database.

It was to that database the Philadelphia Police sent samples of DNA from the 1989 slayings of Ellis and Hanible under a federal grant to try to clear cold cases. In 2013, the FBI notified Philadelphia its samples matched Churchill.

Ellis was discovered dead on March 17, 1989, in an abandoned car near 15th and Thompson Streets. On April 23, 1989, Hanible's decomposing body was found in a burned-out abandoned bar in the 1200 block of West Girard Avenue. Both women were drug-addicted prostitutes.

Assistant District Attorney Gwenn Cujdik has told the jury of eight women and four men the evidence will show that Churchill's DNA was on two items: a bloody paper towel found in the car near Ellis' body, and on the heel of Hanible's sneaker, from which the lace was removed to strangle her.

Simmons said Churchill did not go into great detail about the slayings. He said Churchill said he went to have sex with Ellis but had no money. When she found out and tried to leave, Churchill stopped her and she scratched him causing him to bleed, according to Simmons.

Simmons said Churchill said less about Hanible except: "I took her to the spot."

The jury of eight women and four men watched Simmons' testimony via a remote video hookup projected on a courtroom screen. Simmons said he has a long history of depression and was hospitalized at Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital in Fort Washington for suicidal thoughts.

Defense attorney Gina Capuano focused on Simmons' mental problems and his history of arrests for theft to challenge his credibility before the jury.

Capuano also played a recorded March 27, 2014, prison phone call - just weeks before his purported talk with Churchill - in which Simmons complained that he was not getting the correct psychiatric medication and was "hearing voices and hallucinating every single day."

jslobodzian@phillynews.com

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