A South Burlington man accused of killing his longtime partner and then fleeing to Jamaica pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder and was sentenced to serve 20 years to life behind bars.
Leroy Headley, 41, was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Anako “Annette” Lumumba on May 3, 2018 in South Burlington. He fled to Jamaica after the killing and was taken into custody nearly two years later.
The case has been pending in Chittenden County Superior criminal court since his arrest in February 2020. The plea deal puts off a jury trial that had been set for this month.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, the prosecutor, termed the sentence in court “as fair, and as just as our system allowed” in explaining the plea deal to the judge.
“Mr. Headley will be in the custody of the Department of Corrections in some form for the rest of his life,” George said.
“The determination of his release,” George added, “will always be at the discretion of the Department of Corrections and will be based on the circumstances in front of them at that time and their history with him while incarcerated.”
George said the plea deal would also allow Lumumba’s family to avoid the trauma of a trial and reliving details of the crime.
“The state and family are here today with a full understanding that no number of years in jail, no number of years extracted from Mr. Headley’s life will bring Annette back to her family or heal the pain,” she said.
A second-degree murder conviction carries a minimum sentence of 20 years, and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Several of Lumumba’s family members spoke in court, calling Headley a “psychopath” and a “monster,” before Judge Alison Arms accepted the plea deal and imposed the sentence.
The family members described Lumumba as a beautiful and loving soul, a nurse who cared for others, a devoted mother, daughter and granddaughter.
Adolphe Lumumba, one of Anako Lumumba’s brothers, said the family was in the courtroom out of love and not anger, and revenge wasn’t their purpose.
“We're not here to get justice,” he said, “because there's no such thing when you lose somebody and there's nothing that can be done now that will restore our hearts.”
He said the family was moving forward and hoped Headley could as well.
“You can do better,” Adolphe Lumumba told Headley.
One of Lumumba’s minor daughters, identified only by initials, also spoke in court, telling the judge that she lost not only a mother but a father as well.
“Do you ever think about the trauma I've had to go through because my own father decided to be the cause of my mother's last breath?” she asked Headley, adding, “Why did you have to take away an innocent woman? What did she do to deserve this?”
Given a chance to address the court, Headley apologized for his actions and said he wished he could take them back, though he knew that wasn’t possible.
“I’m sorry is not enough. Unfortunately, that’s all I can offer,” he said.
Headley also turned from his spot at the defense table and addressed the Lumumba family seated in the rows of benches behind the prosecutors, expressing remorse for his actions.
The U.S. Marshals Service had listed Headley on its Most Wanted Fugitives list until his arrest. He was found in Jamaica, the country of his birth, where authorities said had used an alias and was working as a taxi driver.
Headley also has a change of plea hearing set for next month in a case involving two unrelated sexual assault charges that were pending at the time of Lumumba’s killing. Those charges allege he provided alcohol to two 13-year-old girls in a hotel room before sexually assaulting them.
Terms of that plea deal were not available Friday.
Lumumba, the mother of two of Headley’s children, worked as a nurse in the Burlington area. She told police she feared for her life a month before the killing.
In a Dec. 2, 2017 request for an emergency restraining order, she wrote, “I am afraid that he physically threatens me because he is in possession of a loaded gun and what he says at times is very disturbing and unsettling.”
Police said they attempted to seize Headley’s firearms but gave up when a temporary relief-from-abuse order expired after Lumumba failed to appear in court to seek a permanent order.
In accepting the plea deal Friday, the judge said she didn’t hear it supported by Lumumba’s family, but she didn’t hear opposition from them either. Instead, the judge listed off terms the family members used to describe Lumumba, including “trusted” and “joyful”.
“In fact,” the judge said, “what I have heard is an equally beautiful and loving family embracing each other and trying to move through this tragedy.”
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