A Burlington County man pleaded guilty Tuesday to the first-degree murder of a New Jersey softball star nearly two years ago.
Stephen Headley admitted to wanting to kill Nicole Ayres in September 2010 when he stabbed the 22-year-old former Deptford Township High School star and then dumped her body near soccer fields in Southampton Township.
Headley, 30, took a plea deal Tuesday that would put him behind bars for 30 years without parole. Burlington County prosecutors say they will still seek a life sentence.
The Mount Holly man along with his lawyer told the court that Headley met Ayres through a friend, she had agreed to meet him at a local Wawa, they got in an argument in the car and then he stabbed her multiple times in the face, torso and back with the intent to kill her.
Headley also claimed that Ayres took his knife and stabbed him first before he got the weapon back from her and continued the attack, reported NBC10's Tim Furlong.
Outside of the courtroom Ayres' father Rick Ayres expressed disgust for the plea agreement.
"Only 30 years, that's disgraceful," Rick Ayres said. "That's disgraceful for the crime that he did and the viciousness that he did the crime with -- I hope he burns in hell."
Nicole went from Deptford High to Fordham University on a full-ride where she was the Atlantic 10 rookie of the year. But beyond her accomplishments on the field it was the type of person she was off of it that her family remembers the most. It’s that memory that causes them the most pain.
The night before Headley made his confession in court, Ayres' family spoke exclusively to NBC10.
“She was so giving,” said her father while in tears. “God, so much was taken.”
“That was my girl,” said Rick Ayres. "I don’t have her to walk down the aisle. I won’t have her to grow old with.”
At the time of Ayres killing, Headley was a registered sex offender on parole. After allegedly telling his mother and grandmother about what he did, Headley ran out into the street and was hit by a pickup truck causing him rib, back and ankle fractures, according to county prosecutors.
Headley's lawyer told NBC10 Monday that his client was remorseful for the killing.
Ayres family thinks that the chance that Headley could ever walk out of prison means that his punishment isn't enough.
“He should never walk on this earth and breathe our air ever after what he did to her and the way he did it,” said Nicole’s Aunt Suzanne Calabrese. “He took her from us in such a brutal, violent way for no reason.”
Headley will remain in jail on $750,000 bail until he is sentenced Aug. 3. At the sentencing Ayres family plans on testifying and asking the judge to issue a stiffer penalty.
“He’s not remorseful,” said Nicole’s mother Gina. “This is all a ploy just to get the judge to feel like he feels sorry.”
The family insists Headley lured Nicole out the night of her murder and killed her after she refused his advances. She was supposed to report for practice the next day at Rutgers-Camden where she transferred to be closer to her family.
Deptford High School is expected to induct Nicole Ayres into the school’s athletic hall of fame later Tuesday.
“We’re good, hardworking, loving people,” said Rick. “To have this thrown at us to deal with for the rest of our lives, it’s like why? Why did this happen to us?”
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