Willingboro Man Charged In Death Of Female Boarder Authorities Say James R. Knight Killed A 20-year-old Who Lived In His House By Striking Her With A Brick.

Posted: August 05, 1999

WILLINGBORO — A man who was renting a room to a young woman was arrested and charged with her murder early yesterday.

James R. Knight, 30, of the first block of Babbitt Lane, was arraigned before Judge Marvin E. Schlosser in Burlington County Superior Court yesterday afternoon on a first-degree murder charge. Knight was remanded to the county jail after failing to make $250,000 bail.

At the hearing, Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor James A. Ronca said Knight had confessed to police that he killed Stephanie Doherty, 20, by striking her twice in the head with a brick in his back yard.

Knight then stripped the clothes off the body to make it appear the victim had been sexually assaulted by a stranger, authorities said. Neighbors said they could see the nude body lying in the back yard for hours Tuesday before someone summoned police.

Through a courtroom video link yesterday, Knight said, ``The way things were explained to me, I was not in the right frame of mind.'' At that point, the judge cut him off and suggested that he make no further comment without being represented by an attorney.

Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi said that around 1 a.m. Tuesday, Knight quarreled with Doherty outside the house after waiting for her to return from jogging. Bernardi said the argument turned into an altercation that led to the deadly blows with the brick.

Sha Samuels, 31, of the first block of Brooklawn Drive, directly across from Knight's home, said several neighborhood children gathered to look at the body as word spread.

``It's a shock'', said Samuels, who had gone to junior high school with Knight.

Authorities said a neighbor called Willingboro police about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday. Officers went to the blue and white house with faded red shutters, across the street from Bookbinder Elementary School, and found Doherty's body.

Investigators said the young woman was unemployed and had been living in the Knight home for about six months. Neighbors said Doherty, who frequently jogged through the neighborhood, had planned to enlist in the Marines in two weeks.

Ronca said Doherty moved to the area three years ago to stay with her father and uncle, who live in the Delanco area. Both men attended yesterday's court proceedings, but declined to talk to reporters after the hearing. Doherty's mother, who lives in Virginia, was not present.

Knight's wife was not at home when the incident occurred, police said.

The Doherty case is in some ways reminiscent of a slaying in April, when a Willingboro resident, Joseph T. Austin, 25, was arrested for killing his 20-year-old girlfriend, Heather Lee Armijo. Austin, who lives just a few streets north of Knight's house, is accused of stripping the victim's body and leaving it in some bushes in a forest in Jackson Township.

* Inquirer staff writer John Way Jennings contributed to this article.

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