A Montgomery County murder suspect who fled to Miami and survived a leap off the roof of a nine-story hotel pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing his estranged girlfriend in the stairwell of her Wheaton apartment building last year.

Martire Fulcar faces up to life in prison after stabbing and cutting Rocio Morcelo 34 times, including wounds to the heart, neck and jugular vein. The two had a long and troubled relationship, in which Fulcar beat and threatened Morcelo and Morcelo sought protection from the legal system but did not follow up, according to court records.

“She wanted to help him, and he was a master manipulator,” said Morcelo’s cousin, Miledys Duverge Paulino.

Morcelo, 37, worked as a financial counselor at a hospital, helping people without insurance. She left behind three children, who were 6, 11 and 14 at the time of her killing. “They ask about their mom all the time,” Paulino said. “We try to explain that she’s no longer here but she will be in their heart.”

Fulcar, 32, who worked as a landscaper, said little in Circuit Court in Rockville on Tuesday. He showed no obvious signs of the nine-story fall. According to Miami Beach police records, he landed on the hatchback area of a parked Chevrolet Cobalt, which probably cushioned the blow.

Rocio Nikaury Morcelo. (Courtesy of family)

Fulcar is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

On Tuesday, prosecutors presented a tragic portrait of a woman trying to break free from an abuser. As summer turned to fall in 2012, Fulcar moved out of Morcelo’s apartment, where she lived with the three children, about a mile north of downtown Wheaton.

Several weeks later, Morcelo and Fulcar each went to a party near her apartment, and Morcelo spoke to a friend about Fulcar. “She was very concerned about the continued verbal and physical abuse from Mr. Fulcar,” Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Herdman said.

Fulcar also spoke to people at the party, asking them to help persuade Morcelo to take him back, prosecutors said. Later that night, Fulcar and Morcelo ended up at Morcelo’s apartment and got into an argument. Fulcar went downstairs to an acquaintance’s apartment, something that he had done in the past when Morcelo asked him to leave.

After Fulcar left the downstairs unit, the occupant heard sounds in the hallway, opened the door and saw Morcelo with blood on her neck and arms. He called 911. “She is gasping for breath,” he said.

The 911 operators had just received a call from Morcelo’s phone. They heard screams, yells and then silence.

Court records shed light on Fulcar’s relationship with Morcelo. On July 13, 2012, Morcelo sought a restraining order against Fulcar. In court papers, she said he had given her a black eye, bitten her, threatened her with knives, tried to choke her and, in at least one case, caused injuries that required treatment at a hospital.

“I have been trying to leave Martire Fulcar because of his continuing domestic violence,” Morcelo wrote. “He has been threatening me and my kids for days that he is going to kill us. He stated that he would kill us first and then kill himself.”

Morcelo wrote that the police had been called often to her apartment. “I always dropped the charges,” she said, adding, “I always tried to avoid the violence by submitting to his demands and rules.”

The court scheduled a hearing on the restraining order. But domestic abuse victims sometimes don’t go to such hearings, particularly if they fear the abuser will grow more violent or if the abuser promises to change. In this instance, Morcelo didn’t show for the hearing, and the case was dropped.