BROOKSVILLE — For 16 months after his arrest, Anthony Lavonne Roberts maintained his innocence.
Roberts denied that he was the man clad in black who chased down a woman outside her Spring Hill apartment May 6, 2010, ignored her plea for her life and shot her three times.
During a plea hearing Friday morning — two days before Roberts was set to stand trial for attempted murder — the 20-year-old Spring Hill resident pleaded guilty, admitting that he shot Germaine Smiley that night because she was a witness in his aunt's then-pending criminal case.
Roberts said he acted alone and that his aunt, Sandra McKenzie, had no knowledge of his intentions.
"His testimony today was that (Smiley) was destroying their family," Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis said after the hearing.
The on-the-record admission was a requirement in the plea deal. As part of the agreement, Roberts will serve a maximum of 15 years, with a mandatory minimum term of a decade, and up to 10 years of probation.
If convicted at trial, Roberts faced between 25 years and life in prison. Lewis said a life sentence was possible, given Roberts' prior criminal record.
Somehow, Smiley survived the attack and was in the courtroom Friday to hear Roberts take full responsibility, Lewis said.
"I wanted him to stand up in front of his victim and say, 'This is what I did,' " Lewis said.
Brooksville attorney Jimmy Brown said his client agreed to the deal after Lewis dropped the maximum sentence from 20 years to 15. Roberts also wanted to quash any suspicions that his aunt encouraged or paid him to shoot Smiley.
"He made the decision that it was better to enter a plea, admit guilt and clear the air as to why it happened and who was at fault," Brown said.
Investigators say Smiley came home to her apartment on Portillo Road about 3:30 a.m. and saw a masked man standing outside holding a black revolver.
"Don't kill me," she pleaded before she ran.
The man chased her, and when she fell, he shot her once near the base of her skull and again just below that. He then shot her a third time in the forehead.
Surgeons removed the rounds. One slug was still intact.
One bullet shattered her nasal cavity, another was "as close to her spinal column as it could be without paralyzing her," Lewis said.
Still, she has recovered enough to go back to work. "It's amazing she's still alive," he said.
Detectives soon suspected Roberts or one of McKenzie's sons. McKenzie was facing charges of battering Smiley and holding her against her will and, later, trying to intimidate her so she wouldn't testify in McKenzie's case.
Despite the suspicions, the case went cold for months.
Then, while in jail awaiting a hearing for violating the terms of house arrest on an unrelated charge, Roberts talked to as many as four inmates about the crime. One of them agreed to wear a wire. In a recorded exchange, Roberts said he "put two in her head" and did it for family.
Brown tried unsuccessfully to have the recording ruled inadmissible. Two of the inmates were set to testify next week.
In court Friday, Roberts said he got a .22-caliber handgun, drove his aunt's truck to Smiley's house and waited for her.
He didn't offer an apology, and Lewis didn't ask if he was remorseful. "I didn't feel it was going to be sincere," he said, "so I didn't want to go down that road."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.