York double murderer enters plea, closing case after 27 years

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Minutes before jury selection, convicted murderer Daniel Jacobs pleaded no contest to fatally stabbing his baby's mother about 200 times in 1992.

His first-degree murder retrial was set to begin Tuesday, Nov. 13, before Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness. But the last-minute negotiated plea agreement allowed both sides to avoid trial.

Victim Tammy Mock's brother, sister-in-law and aunt were in court to see the case through.

Daniel Jacobs

"Her mother didn't live long enough to finally see this end," said Jessica Mock, who is married to the victim's brother, Larry Mock.

"At least we can take some peace in the fact that there's nothing left he can do to us to drag us back through this — and that he will take his last breath behind bars," she said. "We're not exactly happy that the first-degree murder charge was overturned. ... But the fact that he's never going to get out of prison and will die behind bars? And 27 years later we can finally close this? We're OK with that."

The agreement: Jacobs entered an Alford plea, similar to a no-contest plea, to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison. That sentence will run concurrently with the separate life sentence he's serving, and he was given credit for time served.

Jacobs, 47, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murdering his 7-month-old daughter, Holly Danielle Jacobs, by drowning her in the bloody bathtub where Mock — Holly's mother — was dying after being repeatedly stabbed and assaulted by Jacobs.

He initially was convicted of first-degree murder in both Holly's death and Mock's grisly slaying, and he was sentenced to death by a York County jury for killing Mock. He was sentenced to life in prison for Holly's murder.

A federal appeals court overturned his sentence and conviction for Mock's death, finding that Jacobs' defense attorney didn't properly consider a defense of diminished mental capacity at his first trial.

But had the retrial happened this week, Jacobs would not have presented a diminished-capacity defense, chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said.

Shifting blame: Instead, Jacobs planned to present the same defense he did at his trial in the early 1990s — that Mock killed their baby, which provoked him to attack her.

Barker has said physical evidence from the scene shows Jacobs killed both Mock and Holly. He said Jacobs even confessed that to his mother, who testified against him at his first trial and who was prepared to testify against him again.

"He told his mother he killed the baby because he didn't want her to be raised by Tammy's family," Barker said. "He (also) told his mother ... Tammy was not dying fast enough," so he struck her in the head.

Defense attorney Korey Leslie — the most recent in a string of court-appointed defense attorneys, many of whom didn't pass muster with Jacobs and were replaced — said the agreement was the best his client could have hoped for.

Had the retrial happened, the prosecution planned to enter into evidence Jacobs' testimony from his first trial, where he admitted to fatally stabbing Mock.

"This was his absolute best-case scenario," Leslie said. "This plea allowed him to stand on what he previously testified to."

An end, finally: For Mock's family, it brings an end to the decades of appeals that Jacobs has filed, according to Barker.

"We were fully ready (for the retrial)," Barker said, adding that the only reason the prosecution agreed to the deal is because it brings what he called "legal finality" to Mock's family by severely limiting, and even barring, Jacobs' appeal options.

"Twenty-seven years is long enough to keep calling (Mock's family) and telling them he's (filing) another appeal," Barker said. 

Had Jacobs been convicted at retrial, the appeals would have started all over again, he confirmed.

It's been 17 years since an appeals judge threw out the death penalty for Jacobs and 13 years since his murder conviction for Mock's death was overturned entirely.

It's believed Jacobs has exhausted his appeals for murdering Holly, Barker said.

Mock was 18 years old when Jacobs stabbed her inside their West King Street apartment in February 1992.

She suffered more than 200 wounds to her body, the majority of them stab wounds, according to Barker.

'He's sane': In getting Jacobs' murder conviction overturned, prior appeals attorneys successfully argued that Jacobs' trial attorney erred by not introducing mitigating testimony, including assertions Jacobs was mentally ill, that his IQ is less than 70 and that he was abused as a child.

In 2016, Judge Ness ruled that Jacobs was competent to stand trial for a second time in Mock's slaying.

Prior to that, Jacobs had for a period of years been deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Asked about his client's mental health, defense attorney Leslie was confident:

"He absolutely knows what's going on. He's sane," Leslie said. "He very much understands the process and very much understands his rights."

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.