WILLIAMSBURG — A former soldier accused of beating 42-year-old Dana Patterson Mackay to death in her Seasons Trace home in July 2013 pleaded guilty to a murder charge Tuesday in circuit court.
Scheduled to face a three-day jury trial next week, former Army Spc. Nace Eugene Houchin Jr., 34, entered a guilty plea on a charge of first-degree murder, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green. He said the plea was taken Tuesday afternoon in Williamsburg/James City County Circuit Court during the recess of a different jury trial. Charges of capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder were dropped.
Nicole Michelle Houchin, 36, who is Nace Houchin’s wife, and John Wayne Mackay, 44, each pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge on Feb. 9 in circuit court. Both agreed to cooperate with law enforcement, and in the prosecution of Nace Houchin as part of a plea deal, which caps the active prison sentence they could face. The amount of time they will serve will be determined by their level of cooperation, according to Green.
Police interviewed Nicole Houchin and John Mackay again following their pleas, and a fourth suspect — Gregory Andrew Crawford, 25, of James City — was arrested Feb. 16. He is charged with first-degree murder. Police say he worked at AutoZone with John Mackay and Nicole Houchin.
On the evening of July 27, 2013, a neighbor went to the Mackay home on Teal Way to check on the welfare of Dana Mackay at the request of her mother, according to Green during the Feb. 9 hearing. He said that upon going upstairs, the woman found Dana Mackay’s body beside the bed.
Mackay suffered multiple blunt- and sharp-force injuries to her face, as well as blunt-force injuries to her body and a nearly severed finger, Green said. Medics pronounced her dead at the scene.
A canvas of the neighborhood revealed John Mackay, who was stationed at Fort Eustis, was visiting relatives in New York at the time of the homicide, and that he was believed to be having an affair with a co-worker at AutoZone, Green said. He noted Nicole Houchin admitted to the affair during a conversation with police.
A flood of emails between Nicole Houchin and John Mackay came to light after a colleague of Mackay’s at Fort Eustis, whom Mackay had given a cellphone, provided that device to police, according Green. He explained an email account on the phone began receiving messages, and when the man learned of Dana Mackay’s death, he contacted law enforcement.
Green said the email provider was contacted to obtain the messages, and it was discovered that John Mackay and Nicole Houchin had been exchanging messages since June 2013. A July 24 exchange cited in a criminal complaint against Nicole Houchin indicates John Mackay asked “Will her (sic) be gone before I get back? I’ll be forever in debt to you and will show you every day.” It notes Nicole Houchin responded “Trying to make it happen asap.”
John Mackay admitted to fantasizing about his wife’s death with Nicole Houchin, Green said. Nicole Houchin told John Mackay during a July 27 phone call that “it’s done” and “there was a lot of screaming,” according to a criminal complaint against Nace Houchin.
Green said Tuesday that Nicole and “a third AutoZone employee,” whom Green did not name, remained downstairs while Nace Houchin went upstairs and committed the murder.
According to a criminal complaint against Crawford, Nicole Houchin said she and John Mackay began discussions of killing his wife because she refused to give him a divorce. It notes she told police John Mackay informed her he would pay someone $20,000 to “help get rid of his wife.”
While talking after work at AutoZone one night, Nicole Houchin said Crawford told her he knew someone who could take care of it for her, but a few weeks later said the person had been shot in the hand and could no longer handle it, the complaint indicates. It adds Nicole Houchin said she spoke to her husband, Nace Houchin, who also said he would help kill John Mackay’s wife.
According to the complaint, Nicole Houchin told police the three of them arrived at the Mackays’ home around 1 a.m., noting Crawford used a credit card to open an outside garage door to gain entry into the house. Nace Houchin went up the stairs, kicked in the bedroom door, and used a breaker bar — a long, long nonratcheting tool used to break loose tight bolts — to beat Dana Mackay to death, the complaint indicated.
Nicole Houchin told police Crawford took the additional clothes they’d been wearing and the breaker bar, according to the document. It states Crawford told her the next day that he had burned the clothes and thrown the breaker bar into the river from the Jamestown Ferry.
In September 2013, police executed a search warrant on Nace Houchin’s truck in Gloucester and recovered a wallet containing Nace Houchin’s U.S. Army ID card and a handwritten note confessing to the homicide of Dana Mackay, according to a criminal complaint against him. The document indicates forensic analysis revealed he “more than likely” wrote the letter.
Green said, when John Mackay was confronted with the letter, he admitted he had offered Nace Houchin $20,000 to have his wife killed. The complaint against Crawford notes Nicole Houchin told police Crawford believed he would receive $20,000 for his part in the homicide.
Nace Houchin, Nicole Houchin and John Mackay will be sentenced May 15. No court date has been set for Crawford.
Robertson can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.