TAMPA — In a deal that spared him the death penalty, the man accused of breaking into his former wife's Gibsonton home in 2011 and stabbing her to death pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to life in prison.
Clad in an orange jail uniform and shackles, Egan Fernando Atkins stood before Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles and admitted that he broke into the home of Nicole Williams the morning of July 4, 2011, stood over her as she slept and stabbed her with a kitchen knife.
Atkins, 36, sat stone-faced for most of the hourlong hearing but collapsed in tears as Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale read statements from Williams' family members, who recalled a woman who they said was funny, a loving and compassionate Christian, and a good mother to her three children, Keandre and Shavonne Williams and Bertel Roberts.
"In her last moments, she called me and told me to take care of her children. Then I heard her take her last breath," Williams' mother, Flossie Sallett, wrote in a statement. "I have a hole in my heart that only God and my family can help me with."
About 25 of Williams' family members crowded a set of spectator benches on one side of the courtroom, sobbing as their statements were read. No one from Atkins' family attended.
Williams, 36, divorced Atkins in May 2011 after a six-year marriage. He moved out of the house they shared at 12808 Lake Vista Drive. On July 3, he showed up at the front door and confronted Williams and her new boyfriend, Adriant Harrison.
"So this is who you're sleeping with now?" Atkins told his ex-wife, according to prosecutors.
Early the following morning, Harrison lay in bed beside Williams when he awoke to the sound of her screams. Atkins, 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds, hovered over Williams and plunged a kitchen knife into her chest.
Harrison chased him out the front door. He saw Atkins jump in a parked car.
Williams later died. Hillsborough sheriff's detectives discovered Atkins' fingerprints near a cut window screen at the home. A knife was missing from the kitchen and later found in a flower bed outside.
Atkins spent 38 hours on the run before deputies tracked him down at a relative's home in the East Lake-Orient area.
He pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, citing the "cold, calculated and premeditated" nature of the crime and the fact that it happened during a burglary.
Acknowledging the evidence of Atkins' guilt was overwhelming, defense attorneys negotiated a deal: He would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
On Thursday, Judge Battles asked Atkins questions to ensure that he understood his plea.
"Yes, sir," the defendant replied, nodding. He stared straight ahead for most of the hearing, never glancing at the family of the woman he killed, until it was his turn to speak. With tears in his eyes, Atkins turned and said, "I hold no animosity against anyone. Forgive me, because I'll never forgive myself."
Dan Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386.