Two years after her body was found off a path beside a soccer field in Southampton Township, a Burlington County man pleaded guilty Tuesday to murdering a former Deptford High School ace softball pitcher, and now faces the possibility of life in prison.
Stephen Headley, 30, of Florence, admitted to stabbing Nicole Ayres, 22, to death with a pocketknife at the Southampton Township sports complex off Buddtown Road on Sept. 13, 2010. Ayres’ body was found early that morning with multiple stab wounds to her head, neck and back.
Headley entered an open plea to murder, which carries a minimum 30-year sentence, but Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi said his office will seek life in prison when Superior Court Judge James W. Palmer Jr. imposes the sentence later this summer.
Police said at the time of the murder Headley allegedly confessed to the crime to his mother and grandmother just hours after Ayres’ body was found, but fled his mother’s Pemberton home when she went to call investigators.
In a bizarre twist, Headley was hit by a pickup truck when he ran out of the house, and ended up hospitalized with a broken back and other injuries.
Ayres had been Deptford High School’s ace pitcher, and went on to pitch at Fordham University, where she won the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award and finished her freshman season 17-5 with a 2.12 ERA, coming just shy of setting the all-time wins mark for a Fordham freshman. She had transferred to Rutgers-Camden when she was killed.
Deptford High School’s softball field has since been named in Ayres’ memory.
Headley, who remains in jail on $750,000 bail, has his sentencing scheduled for Aug. 3.