CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The man accused of killing a co-worker and her unborn child pleaded guilty to all charges Thursday.
In Mecklenburg County Superior Court, Mark Anthony Cox, 23, was sentenced to two life sentences for the double murder of Danielle Watson and her unborn child. The agreement allows him to avoid the death penalty and allows Watson's family to avoid the pain of a trial.
Cox was the first person to be charged under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in North Carolina. The law went into effect a few weeks before the murders. It allows prosecutors to charge an offender with murder of a fetus, even if the offender (or victim) didn't know about the pregnancy.
Watson was stabbed and killed January 13, 2012 while managing the Flying Biscuit restaurant at Stonecrest Shopping Center. She was two months pregnant.
Watson was the closing manager, with access to the safe.
Police said Watson was stabbed several times with a butcher knife, and her body left near a dumpster outside.
In court, Cox offered no explanation or apology to Watson's family. Her mother, Denise Watson, and Danielle's fiance both spoke to the court and addressed Cox.
Fiance Keith Smith said, "Memories are all I have left of Danielle and I am blessed to have them." However, he went on to say Cox denied him the gift of raising a child with her and he hopes Cox feels a deep pain the rest of his life.
"This coward has committed the ultimate trespass," said Smith. He said one day, he might be able to forgive, but probably not in this lifetime.
Denise Watson spoke told the court how they always tried to protect and keep Danielle safe from the moment she was born, but they could not help the night she was working with Cox.
"We are all trying to understand how and why she crossed paths with this evil person, Mark Cox," said Watson.
Cox was hired to work in the kitchen a month prior to the attack. He had just finished serving three years in prison. His past convictions included robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony breaking and entering, and larceny after breaking and entering. In 2008, Cox was 18 and working in the kitchen of a Sonic restaurant in eastern North Carolina. Police there said Cox and some co-conspirators planned to rob the restaurant. Workers were held at gunpoint while the robber demanded thousands of dollars.
For that 2008 incident, Cox was given three-year-suspended prison, which was suspended for probation. His prison time was activated after he broke probation and committed another crime. That time, police said Cox broke into the home of a man who was trying to help him. The man had recently asked Cox to move out, and investigators say Cox responded by breaking into the man's home.
Just a few short weeks after Cox was released from prison, he was hired at the Flying Biscuit. The next month, Danielle Watson was dead.
During the investigation, the owner of the Flying Biscuit was asked about hiring Cox. Owner Hugh Bigham gave a statement to WBTV, saying "During the short time Mark Cox was employed by the Flying Biscuit Cafe he performed his responsibilities accordingly and was trusted by his co-workers...During the interview process, Cox acknowledged a previous conviction. He was given a chance and initially hired on a trial basis. There are many victims of this horrible tragedy but our primary focus today, and going forward, is helping the family of Danielle Watson. Danielle was a wonderful person and her death is a terrible loss to all of us."
Those who knew Cox said at the time he had just heard from his child's mother the day before, and she had asked for money. Cox is quoted as saying he didn't have any money.
CMPD told WBTV Watson's fiance received a phone call late Friday night (the 14th) that led him to believe she was in trouble. He tried to get back in touch with her. He didn't reach her, and wasn't able to go check on her himself because Watson had their car at work, a car Cox had stolen. So he called 911.
He told the dispatcher the name and address of the restaurant, but the dispatcher misunderstood. An officer was dispatched to an empty house four miles down Rea Road, to a place called "Plum Biscuits", which doesn't exist.
That mix-up led to a delay in police response. It was several hours before officers put the pieces together.
Watson's fiance said the dispatcher did not call him back to say nothing was found. CMPD said it was a mistake for the dispatcher not to clarify the information. Policy now requires all dispatchers to repeat back the address.
On January 15, 2012, officers were called to the Flying Biscuit at 6:24 a.m., according to a search warrant. An employee told officers the business was open, and money was missing from an unlocked safe.
When officers entered the restaurant, they found blood inside the building. Nearly two-and-a-half hours later while officers were still processing the scene at the restaurant, an employee with Allied Waste Company told officers that he had found a woman's body behind the dumpster in the parking lot adjacent to the Flying Biscuit.
Officers say the woman was identified as Watson.
According to a warrant, officers determined that Watson was supposed to be closing the restaurant with Mark Cox the previous night.
When officers arrived at the home the Cox shared with family members, they saw "a blood trail leading to the residence, as well as blood on the front door," the warrant states.
A person who lived in the home allowed officers into the home, the warrant says, where officers saw "a large amount of apparent blood on the kitchen counter, as well as throughout the residence." The officers also found a large butcher knife in a mug filled with an unknown liquid on the kitchen, according to the warrant.
Officers spoke to Chelsea Amanda Cox, Mark's sister, who told officers that Cox had come to the home around 10:50 p.m. Friday and said he needed to talk to her.
According to the warrant, Cox confessed to his sister that he had stabbed Watson multiple times during an argument and had dumped her body in a dumpster. Chelsea Cox also told officers that she found a white plastic trash bag in her closet, with Mark Cox's work uniform, which was soaked in blood.
Cox reportedly told his sister that he had taken Watson's vehicle and was planning to dump the bloody clothes and the vehicle in a river, the warrant states.
Police spoke to another employee of the Flying Biscuit who told officers that Cox had come to his home around 11 p.m. Friday night.
The employee told officers that Cox had "an unknown amount of money on his lap when he arrived," the warrant states. Officers showed the employee a picture of Watson's vehicle, which the employee identified as the vehicle Cox was driving.
Cox's sister, despite seeing bloody clothing at their family home and knowing about Danielle Watson's stolen car, apparently did not call police. Legally, there was no obligation for the family to call police, even after hearing his confession and seeing the bloody evidence.
Meanwhile, Cox fled Charlotte. He was arrested a couple days later in the Fayetteville-area.
Watson's funeral was held the weekend following her murder - the day she and her fiance were planning to get married.
He told WBTV he knows Watson didn't make it easy for Cox. He said, "She was a firecracker, I know she fought him".
On the one-year anniversary of Watson's murder, just ten days ago, the Flying Biscuit honored her memory. The restaurant donated all of its profits to the American Cancer Society, an organization Watson cared about.