A Westchester County grand jury will hear evidence in three slayings attributed to alleged serial killer Lucius Crawford, Newsday has learned.

Police said Crawford confessed to killing three women -- including last week's brutal stabbing death of Tanya Simmons in his Beekman Avenue apartment in Mount Vernon.

While being questioned by police, Crawford also admitted to two 1993 killings in Yonkers -- the September 1993 stabbing death of Learonda Shealy, 23, and the October 1993 killing of Nella West, 38, whose body was found in Riverdale, the Bronx, officials said. Crawford told police he killed West in Yonkers and dumped her body just over the city line, a law enforcement source said.

After a brief court hearing Monday before Mount Vernon City Court Judge Helen Blackwood, Crawford's newly appointed lawyer, Angelo MacDonald, signaled that he will challenge the confessions of his client, who waived his right to a felony hearing, sending the second-degree murder case to the grand jury in White Plains.

MacDonald also questioned the circumstances of Crawford's confessions to three slayings.

"I have some doubts about the voluntariness of those statements, and that's obviously very important to him and me," MacDonald said.

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Wearing handcuffs shackled to leg irons, the 60-year-old Crawford was dressed in a black leather jacket, blue jeans and white high-top leather Nike sneakers during Monday's hearing. He remained silent and stone-faced in the packed courtroom as MacDonald said Crawford would skip a felony hearing and the case would be brought directly to a grand jury.

"I have spoken to my client, and we have discussed this issue," MacDonald told Blackwood.

Speaking later to reporters outside the courthouse, MacDonald said that Crawford is under protective custody but not on suicide watch at the Westchester County Jail. There have been no threats against Crawford, MacDonald added.

Crawford's criminal history dates back to 1973, when he was convicted of slashing four women in Charleston, S.C.

In April 1977, less than a year after he was released from prison, Crawford went on another knifing spree in Charleston, this time stabbing at least four women in five days. In June 1977, he was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

In 1991, after serving 14 years, he was released from prison. He migrated north and later that year he was charged in White Plains with punching an ex-girlfriend. He served about six months in the Westchester County Jail and was released in December 1991.

Three years later, he was charged with trying to murder a female Yonkers co-worker he stabbed about a dozen times. In March 1995, he was sentenced to 10-20 years in prison.

In February 2008, Crawford was released from Sing Sing prison and was to remain on parole until May 2014.

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He spent about 28 years in prison.

Last Tuesday, New York City Police Department detectives went to Crawford's apartment after they matched Crawford's DNA with genetic material found at the scene of the cold-case slaying of West. At the apartment, the detectives found Simmons' body covered by a sheet and stabbed nine times. They also discovered Crawford's electronic ankle monitor that he was wearing while on parole.

Mount Vernon police separately also converged on the apartment, spurred by a call Crawford himself made to police in which he posed as a neighbor alerting authorities about a "disturbance" in the apartment where he had lived for about 18 months.

Crawford, who had bicycled away from his apartment, was arrested near the Target store on East Sandford Boulevard in Mount Vernon a few hours after Simmons' body was discovered, police said.

MacDonald said Crawford is aware of his situation and the allegation that he is a serial killer.

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"It concerns him," the lawyer said. "He denies it."

Crawford's arrest and alleged connection to three slayings have prompted investigators to dust off unsolved homicide cases.

White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong said the city jailed Crawford for six months on a misdemeanor charge about 20 years ago, and investigators now are sifting through old cases such as incidents involving stabbings and women.

"We have nothing that matches at this point ... the detectives are still researching," he said. "You just keep going back year after year."