By Daniel Silliman
Moments before his murder trial began, before potential jurors were called into the courtroom, Leroy Mitchell Knox decided to plead guilty.
The county prosecutor called it a "pleasant surprise," since the 23-year-old College Park man initially had turned down an offered, plea deal.
"I thought he wanted to go to trial," said John Turner, executive assistant district attorney. "He'd been insistent that he was innocent, even though he apologized in a letter to the judge."
Knox apologized a second time, directly to the mother of the woman he murdered.
Standing there Monday morning, a tattoo on his arm saying, "slim," and another on his chest saying, "slime," Knox said he never meant to kill Kimberly Jacobs, the 26-year-old social worker who was found two years ago, naked from the waist down and strangled to death in her apartment.
Jacobs, a 26-year-old College Park woman, didn't show up for work on Sept. 26, 2006. A worried co-worker found her face down in a bathtub of water, court records show. Her underwear was on the floor, ripped, and her green shirt torn open, exposing her red bra. Buttons were found on the floor between the door and the bedroom. A rag was in the apartment oven, the oven was set to 500 degrees, and another was on the burner of the turned-on stove top.
Police believe Knox tried to disguise the woman's strangling as a drowning, and tried to cover everything up with a fire.
Knox lived in the Garden Walk Boulevard apartment above Jacobs, and she had told her family he had made some comments that made her uncomfortable and a little scared.
Knox was released from jail on charges related to domestic violence involving someone else, but the charges were dropped on the afternoon of Sept. 25. He was apparently looking for the victim of the previous incident when he knocked on Jacob's door.
Clayton County Police Department detectives connected the neighbor to the crime by a phone call, which Knox made on Jacobs' phone at about the same time she died. Detectives put together a tight timeline, using Jacobs' work schedule, the phone call, a witnesses' sighting of the dead woman's car, and the discovery of the body.
Knox initially told police he had been to the apartment, had sex with Jacobs, but he denied killing her. A little more than two years after Jacobs' death, after he was found mentally competent to stand trial, Knox withdrew his plea of not guilty.
He signed his name to Count 3 of the grand jury's indictment, confessing he "did, while in the commission of a felony of Aggravated Assault, did cause the death of Kimberly Jacobs, a human being, by manual strangling ..."
Knox pleaded guilty at 11 a.m., Monday, Turner said, and was sentenced to life in prison. The 23-year-old could be eligible for parole in 30 years.