Crime and Justice

Leroy Headley pleads not guilty to second-degree murder

Leroy Headley appears in Vermont Superior Court for his arraignment Tuesday. Headley was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Anako Lumumba in 2018. Pool photo by Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

BURLINGTON — After nearly two years on the run, a South Burlington man accused of shooting and killing his longtime partner and mother of his two children pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of second-degree murder.

The hearing was the first time Leroy Headley, 38, has appeared in court since the death of Anako “Annette” Lumumba in 2018. 

At the proceeding, Judge Gregory Rainville ordered that Headley continue to be held without bail until his case can go to trial. He also ordered $100,000 bail on two sexual assault charges against Headley that were pending at the time of the murder.

Headley faces a minimum sentence of 20 years if convicted of the second-degree murder charge. The maximum sentence is life is prison.

Until his arrest, Headley had been on the U.S. Marshals Service’s list of 15 Most Wanted Fugitives. He was ultimately found in Jamaica, the country of his birth, where authorities said he was working as a taxi driver under the alias Owen Ewan. 

Adolphe Lumumba, brother of Anako Lumumba, clutches a rosary as Leroy Headley appears in Vermont Superior Court Tuesday. Pool photo by Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

Headley fled Vermont following the shooting in May 2018 and was last known to be in Albany, New York, where he apparently dropped his car and the gun used in the homicide. Headley had shared a home with Lumumba, who worked as a nurse in the Burlington area. 

On Tuesday, a courtroom crowded with friends and family of Lumumba watched as Headley was arraigned on the charge. 

The proceeding began and ended quickly, and a hearing to decide the weight of the evidence was scheduled for two weeks out.

State’s Attorney Sarah George said the one upside about the long wait for this day in court is that it’s given the state time to collect evidence and strengthen its case against Headley.

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“We’re ready for trial,” she said. “The only good thing about having those two years is that our case is strong. It’s solid. We have the evidence that we believe we need at this time.”

However, George said, it will take time for the defense to do the same. She said it could be anywhere from six months to a year before the case heads to trial.

“We obviously hope that it’s sooner rather than later for everyone’s sake, but it’s hard to tell,” she said.

George said the time lapse between an event and a subsequent arraignment can be difficult for the family of a victim, because there’s not a very steady stream of new information coming in. She said that was especially true in this case because that gap was two years.

“But the South Burlington Police Department in particular, since the night of this incident, have just been incredibly devoted to this case, and incredibly supportive of the family,” George said.

South Burlington Police Chief Shawn Burke concurred, and said his department was just glad to finally see the case come to court.

“We do this work on behalf of survivors,” Burke said. “You saw the faces, you saw the reactions. We’re proud of the investigation thus far, and we’ll work endlessly with the prosecutor’s office to ensure some sense of justice can be found in this tragedy.”

Adolphe Lumumba, Anako’s brother, said he was relieved to finally hear of Headley’s arrest.

Family members of Anako Lumumba of South Burlington leave Vermont Superior Court after the arraignment of Leroy Headley Tuesday. Pool photo by Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press

“I’m glad it’s here, but it’s not over yet,” he said after the proceeding.

He said that with each other’s support, his family will get through the tragedy of his sister’s death.

“It’s all about family from now on,” he said. “That’s my focus.”

George said Lumumba’s family has provided exceptional support, something she said will become even more important as the case moves forward to trial.

“They’re incredibly supportive of each other, which is a really good thing,” George said. “I’ve seen families that haven’t necessarily had that when going through something like this. It will be crucial for them to maintain that support for each other.”

“As you can tell, this has been a really long time coming for them and they have clearly struggled with that next step, with this missing part of him not being accountable to this charge,” she said.

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Ellie French

About Ellie

Ellie French is a general assignment reporter and news assistant for VTDigger. She is a recent graduate of Boston University, where she interned for the Boston Business Journal and served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper. She is originally from Duluth, Minnesota.

Email: [email protected]

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