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Staff writer

A guilty plea Monday by a man from the state of California provided the final answer to a question lingering in the 2009 murder of a woman whose husband once worked as an air-traffic controller at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

When federal prosecutors presented their case in 2011 leading to the conviction of the woman’s husband, Ryan Holness, the lawyers indicated that someone else also had taken part in the crime. This week, they said DNA evidence provided the proof that Dellando Recardo Campbell was that someone else.

If a judge accepts Campbell’s guilty plea, he will be sentenced in November to 30 years in prison for the crime of interstate domestic violence resulting in death, prosecutors said.

“The blood Dellando Campbell left behind at the 2009 crime scene was analyzed and entered into a national DNA database, where it waited four years for a match,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the plea agreement. “Thanks to a routine DNA analysis performed in California when Mr. Campbell was arrested on an unrelated charge, Maryland authorities finally learned the identity of the second killer of Serika Dunkley Holness.”

Campbell, who lived in Lemoore, Calif., near Fresno, was accused by prosecutors last spring of conspiring with Ryan Holness, 33, to kill the woman. Ryan Holness was sentenced to life in prison after jurors convicted him at his trial three years ago of intending to kill his spouse and committing a crime of violence against her during interstate travel. Her stabbed body was found in a Kent County field on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in June 2009.

Campbell, 31, acknowledged in this week’s signed plea agreement that he was enlisted by Holness to play the role of a carjacker in the crime.

Campbell, living in Georgia in 2009, had once served in the Navy with Holness, who was facing a court-martial for a passport fraud offense, court papers state. Holness devised the murder plan after posing as his wife while applying for a $500,000 life insurance policy, naming himself as the beneficiary.

Holness convinced his wife to travel with him from New York to Maryland, ostensibly to co-sign a lease, court papers state, and Campbell rode with them to a farm road in Kent County.

“The DNA of an unknown third person, ‘the carjacker,’ was crucial to Holness’ plan to convince the authorities that his account of a fatal carjacking was truthful,” according to a factual stipulation in the plea agreement. Campbell “conspicuously deposited droplets of his blood at various locations inside the passenger compartment of [Holness’ leased] Honda, and on several of the victim’s personal items that were placed at the crime scene in contemplation of discovery by police. Items at the murder scene from which the defendant’s DNA was later recovered included the victim’s purse, one of her sandals and a paperback book.”

Campbell drove the Honda to Washington, D.C., and abandoned it in an intersection near a bus terminal, court papers state, while Holness waited hours in Kent County before walking to a house and telling the residents that he and his wife had been the victims of a carjacking.

Maryland State Police reported that they found inconsistencies as they investigated the husband’s account that a masked gunman had carjacked the couple when they stopped at a roadside service area in New Jersey while traveling south from New York City. Police provided no explanation at the time for how Ryan Holness’ leased car wound up near the bus stop in Washington, D.C.

Federal prosecutors, who assumed jurisdiction in the case, told jurors at Holness’ 2011 trial in Baltimore that there indeed was another culprit involved in the crime, an accomplice to the defendant. A prosecutor said that Holness’ planning of the crime included checking bus schedules online to devise an “escape hatch” for the accomplice to get away after abandoning the car, and that the accomplice did so.

Campbell’s plea agreement states that a sample of his DNA “routinely obtained” last October by police in Lemoore, Calif., led to a call in January to Maryland authorities, informing them that the DNA matched the “unknown” assailant in the 2009 murder.

Campbell told investigators in February that Holness wired him $400 to travel from Georgia to New York, and Campbell admitted accompanying the couple during the ride leading to her death in Maryland, although he “denied personally assaulting the victim,” according to this week’s plea agreement.

Serika Holness’ body had 58 knife wounds when police found it in the field near the Crumpton community, a prosecutor said at the trial of Ryan Holness. His defense lawyer argued to the jurors that he tried to protect his 27-year-old wife, and the lawyer told jurors that the unknown assailant should be the person on trial.