GIBSONTON — Again and again since 1995, Egan Fernando Atkins battled criminal charges that included auto theft, battery, stalking, armed burglary and violation of domestic violence injunctions.
Atkins, 34, appears to have avoided significant jail time as he accepted plea deals or when charges were dropped or reduced, Hillsborough online court records show.
About 4 a.m. Monday, Atkins slipped into a ground-floor window of his ex-wife's home, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed her to death as she slept in a room with her boyfriend, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office said.
Authorities identified his ex-wife as Nicole Williams, 36, who lived at 12808 Lake Vista Drive in southeastern Hillsborough County. She and Atkins had divorced less than two months ago after about seven years of marriage.
The boyfriend, who was not identified by authorities, tried to stop Atkins as he fled, said sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway.
"He gave chase to the suspect out the front door," Callaway said. "But he lost him and then the suspect disappears in a vehicle."
Atkins, who authorities said dropped the murder weapon just outside the house, fled in a vehicle he later abandoned at the home of someone he knows in the Bloomingdale area, Callaway said.
"We just need him now," Callaway said.
The killing occurred while Williams' three teenage children (none belonging to Atkins) were inside the house. Her boyfriend's child also was staying at the house. Nobody else was injured.
Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Atkins, who has no known address, on charges of first-degree murder and armed burglary of an occupied dwelling. By late Monday, he was still at large.
Friends and family of Williams, who declined to comment, gathered outside the house as detectives and crime scene technicians worked inside.
The well-maintained house sits in the Kings Lake subdivision. Two silver cars sat in the driveway. An evidence marker was visible on the walkway near the front door.
In a 2008 bankruptcy filing, Atkins and Williams listed the value of the four-bedroom home at $200,000. The couple listed mortgage liabilities of $274,000.
The couple listed $207,815 in total assets and liabilities of $335,866.
Neighbors said they heard nothing alarming during the night and expressed astonishment at the killing, saying Williams was a well-liked, friendly woman who kept a quiet and dignified house.
"She was a real nice lady," said Steve Hampton, 49, who lives across the street. "She always waved 'hi' to people. I've never seen a problem there."
Detectives ask anyone with information about Atkins' whereabouts to call (813) 247-8200.
The victim's daughter called 911. Witnesses in the house who know Atkins identified him to authorities as Williams' attacker, Callaway said.
Callaway said detectives had not yet identified a motive for the stabbing, but were researching past history with the victim and the suspect.
Atkins' criminal history dates to at least 1995, most of that in Hillsborough. Courts were closed Monday for the Independence Day holiday, so it is unclear what the circumstances of those charges involved. Court files also would confirm sentences displayed in online records.
Here is what those online records show:
Atkins was convicted four times for violating domestic violence injunctions. Other convictions include misdemeanor domestic battery, burglary and aggravated stalking after the filing of an injunction.
In 1996, Atkins was sentenced to a suspended 180 days in jail and probation after pleading no contest to violating an injunction.
Atkins was charged in 1997 with domestic battery and received a suspended six-month jail sentence and probation after he pleaded no contest.
In 2000, Atkins pleaded guilty to violating three more injunctions, the felony stalking charge and burglary. He was sentenced to house arrest, probation and time served in jail. He also was ordered to take an anger-management class.
None of the cases occurred after 2004, when Atkins and Williams married.
Williams called sheriff's deputies to her house on May 12 during an argument she was having with Atkins, Callaway said.
"A deputy responded. They talked it over, and we did not write a report. That's the last contact we know we've had with the victim concerning any domestic violence situation," he said. Callaway said the May 12 incident was not a violent confrontation but an argument that Williams wanted to discuss with a deputy.
Times staff writers Kameel Stanley and Jennifer Orsi and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.