On Sept. 1, 2017, Donny Lewis Franklin sent out an ominous text to his family.
“It is with great sadness that I say I won’t be able to see you anymore because of an act I committed,” the text read.
That act, prosecutors said Friday, was stabbing his then-girlfriend — a popular UNC Charlotte professor — and leaving her to die in his apartment.
Franklin, 46, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder of Jeannine Skinner. He faces between 28 and 35.5 years in prison.
Skinner was stabbed more than 200 times, an autopsy revealed in November. Forty of those stab wounds were to her head and neck, assistant district attorney Tim Sielaff said.
The two had been in a relationship for a little more than two months. During that time, 35-year-old Skinner had confided in friends that Franklin had mental breakdowns, Sielaff said.
She also learned he had a history of domestic violence against women. Court records show he had a history of assaults in North Carolina and Virginia dating back to 1996. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to an assault on a female charge.
But nevertheless Skinner stayed in the relationship. She expressed hopes of seeing if she could help Franklin work through mental health issues, Sielaff said.
She never had the opportunity.
Franklin was arrested and charged with first-degree murder three days after Skinner's death.
She was one of several homicide victims in 2017 to have been killed in an act of domestic violence. More than a quarter of Charlotte's homicide victims last year were killed by a partner or close relative.
She was a beloved professor of gerontology and psychology for UNCC's Department of Psychological Science. While she had only been at the university for two years, she made an impression on her peers for her work in researching ways to slow cognitive aging in older adults, colleagues said.
On Friday, Skinner's family, members of her church and colleagues from UNCC packed the courtroom to watch Franklin's guilty plea.
"I hope he's able to understand the profound person he took away from us," said Jeannine Skinner's younger brother, Bryant Skinner.
Bryant Skinner stood in the court, holding a stack of papers that contained several messages from people who loved his sister. He rattled off a list of his sister's accomplishments. He called her a trailblazer who had a goal of finding a cure for Alzheimer's.
Still heavily scarred by the death, Bryant Skinner used the moment to advocate for stronger punishment for people who murder others in acts of domestic violence.
Her parents discussed their daily journey grappling with forgiveness. Beverly Skinner, her mother, questioned how someone could commit such a crime against someone they claim to love.
"He didn't just stab my daughter, he slaughtered her like she was an animal," she said, describing how Franklin's action robbed her not only of her daughter, but future memories and possible grandchildren.
Curtis Skinner, Jeannine Skinner's father, also used the moment in court to advocate against domestic violence. Men like Franklin are manipulative and cowards who can't handle a strong woman, Curtis told the court. He implored Judge Hugh Lewis to impose the strongest punishment possible.
"Anything less than the maximum sentence we're asking for is a sign that he's played you," he told Lewis. "Give the community of women justice."
Friday's hearing had initially been scheduled for Thursday, but was postponed after neither of Franklin's attorneys appeared in court.
Darren Haley, Franklin's attorney, expressed remorse toward Skinner's family, and said Franklin doesn't remember the events that led up to that day.
"On paper, it looked like it should've been a great, loving relationship," Haley said. "We can't explain what happened that day."
Franklin didn't speak at the hearing, other than to confirm his guilty plea.
UNCC has established a scholarship in Skinner's name and is looking for additional ways to honor her memory.