A Manassas man who told police he "just snapped" moments before stabbing his estranged wife 14 times from head to toe in front of her two young daughters pleaded guilty to murder yesterday in Prince William County Circuit Court.

John Battle, 39, waited outside Deborah Battle's home for more than an hour Jan. 4 before attacking her as she walked toward her car to take the girls to school, according to testimony yesterday. After his arrest, Battle told detectives he was tired of being "the world's whipping boy."

Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert called the slaying "a horrible and extreme case of domestic violence." Ebert, who said he would recommend a 35-year prison sentence, said prosecutors agreed to the plea arrangement so Deborah Battle's children would not have to testify against their stepfather. Circuit Court Judge William D. Hamblen could impose a sentence of up to 60 years in prison at a hearing scheduled for Oct. 28.

Battle turned himself in to police a few hours after the attack and later admitted to his wife's slaying, which took place in the parking lot outside her home on Shady Grove Circle in Manassas. Police said John Battle sprang from his car and pushed the girls out of the way before lunging at Deborah Battle with a 14-inch bowie knife.

Witnesses told authorities that Deborah Battle yelled "Run!" to her children before John Battle dragged her along the concrete, attacking her. An autopsy showed that she died from deep chest and back wounds.

John Battle had been served with divorce papers in early December and had not spoken with his wife for almost 10 weeks, according to testimony. He had spent about a decade as a Manassas city maintenance worker, leaving that job last year for undisclosed reasons.

Manassas Detective Louis DeRamus III testified yesterday that Battle, after his arrest, told police he had grown frustrated with his marital and legal troubles and "knew something was different" about himself when he awoke on the morning of Jan. 4.

"He was tired of how he had been treated by his ex-wife and his current estranged wife and by the court system," testified DeRamus, who interviewed Battle that afternoon. "He had a feeling that something overcame him. . . . He said that he had no feeling in him. He was replaying in his head the disappointments, being knocked down and kicked around. He said he wasn't going to be the world's whipping boy any more."

According to DeRamus, Battle went to his wife's home before dawn and sat in a parked car. "He said his brain exploded" when he saw her walk out with the girls, DeRamus testified. "Everything that had happened to him over the course of several years was going over and over in his head. He said he got tunnel vision and focused in on her. He said he didn't see the bystanders, that he didn't hear anything."

According to testimony, Battle told police that he had not planned to kill his wife, saying: "If I had planned it, I would have done it a long time ago."

Battle's attorney, Kevin T. Wilson, said his client fled the scene, driving to Staunton, Va., before turning around.

"He has always felt awful about what happened," Wilson said. "I think he was shaken, disturbed and upset. He understands that he made a mistake, and he felt the right thing to do was to come back and confess."

Several of Deborah Battle's relatives who attended yesterday's hearing declined to comment, some breaking into quiet tears. The girls, ages 7 and 9, are in the custody of family members.