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Wife of slain Warren deputy disagrees with plea deal

Posted December 5, 2008

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— The widow of an off-duty Warren County deputy killed more than two years ago said she heard about the plea deal her husband’s killer agreed to minutes before it was presented to the judge.

Montellus Burchette pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the Sept. 5, 2006, shooting death of Deputy Michael Leonforte. He was sentenced to consecutive sentences of 160 to 201 months in prison on the two charges.

Burchette and Quante Seward, who was arrested with Burchette the day after Leonforte's death, were both originally charged wtih first-degree murder with capital punishment.

“Immediately I think, I had tears in my eyes,” Leonforte’s wife Cynthia Qiu said.

Investigators said they believe Leonforte was heading home when he drove up to two men standing in the road. The men tried to rob Leonforte after he stopped, and they shot him, authorities said. Leonforte was only on the job for a few days.

Qiu and other family members said they were stunned by the plea, which occurred during a scheduled pretrial hearing. Qiu said they had no idea a plea was even being discussed and found out minutes before it happened. Family members asked the district attorney’s office to pursue more leads, she said.

“They told us it is not your decision,” Qiu said.

District Attorney Sam Currin said he discussed the plea with the family for more than an hour before the hearing.

“We felt the plea served the means of justice. That's my job. That's what I do for the citizens that I represent,” Currin said.

Seward's case is pending, but prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty.


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