It is a scene that Lesley Dunlap says she will never forget: her ex-boyfriend, gripping the steering wheel of the Chevrolet Tahoe he had hauled her into, saying she was going to die that day.
Police and prosecutors said that threat might have become reality if four passers-by had not pulled Jeffrey Ricardo Jones Jr., off the petite woman he was stabbing with a steak knife on a busy Towson street in June.
Yesterday, a Baltimore County judge agreed, sentencing Jones to 25 years in prison for attempted first-degree murder.
"In my mind, from what I have heard, there is no question Mr. Jones was intent on killing Ms. Dunlap that day, and he wasn't going to stop at anything," Circuit Judge Michael J. Finifter said during the sentencing hearing. "If it had not been for the heroics of strangers, we would, in fact, be looking at autopsy photos here today."
Jones, 26, of Parkville pleaded guilty in February to attempted murder in the June 17 attack on his former girlfriend of four years outside the Venable LLP law firm, where she is a receptionist. He tried yesterday to withdraw that plea, saying he had not understood the rights he waived.
Finifter denied the request.
The attack on Dunlap began about 8:15 a.m., as she backed into a parking spot on the gravel lot at Venable. Jones drove up and blocked her in with his sport utility vehicle. He smashed the driver's-side window of her car with a hammer and dragged her out the window and into his SUV.
Driving out of the parking lot, Dunlap said, Jones told her, "'You're going to die today.'"
"I reached over, unlocked the door and jumped out," the 25-year-old woman from Hanover in Anne Arundel County said in an interview after the hearing. "The truck was still moving, but I didn't care. I was getting out of there."
Jones came after her.
That was when four strangers - a female nurse and a delivery truck driver in their 40s, a woman in her 60s and a 62-year-old lawyer who had played football for the University of Maryland - intervened.
"This is a day and time when people don't get involved in other people's business, and understandably so because you never know who has a gun," prosecutor Stephen Roscher told the judge. "These four people put themselves in the fray and saved Lesley's life."
The deliveryman grabbed a fire extinguisher from his truck and hit Jones over the head with it, twice after the first blow didn't seem to faze him, Roscher said. When Jones dropped the knife, the group pulled Dunlap away from him.
Jones jumped into his truck and sped away. Police arrested him that day in Prince George's County.
Dunlap suffered stab wounds to the back of her neck, left arm, back and chest, and needed surgery on her left hand, which Jones sliced deeply with the steak knife.
Yesterday, Jones apologized in court for "the actions I took," characterizing the incident as "a real emotional situation." Thomas Johnson, a longtime friend of Jones' who spoke in court on his behalf, asked the judge to show mercy, saying he had never before known his friend to act violently.
"He felt like she was playing with his feelings," Johnson said. "When you play with people's emotions, you don't know how they're going to react."
Defense attorney William J. Giuffre pointed out that Jones' criminal record consists only of incidents stemming from his "dysfunctional relationship" with Dunlap. Jones was given probation for a 2002 assault on Dunlap at the Cockeysville apartment they shared, and 10 days before the stabbing, a judge signed a protective order to keep Jones away from his ex-girlfriend.
The judge asked to see copies of the temporary and final protective orders signed last year and lingered over them before announcing his sentence.
"People seek protective orders for protection," Finifter told Jones. "People need to understand that they're worth more than the paper they're written on."
Finifter sentenced Jones to life in prison, suspending all but 25 years. Jones must serve about 15 years before he becomes eligible for a parole hearing, prosecutors said, and the governor would have to approve any parole before Jones could be released.