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Aunt of slain woman not happy with plea deal

By Maria Miller

SOMERSET COUNTY, Pa. -- A Somerset County man took a plea deal Wednesday after admitting to strangling his girlfriend last year.

Investigators say Johnathan Beal killed Justine Jackson before burying her body in November.

6 News reporter Maria Miller spoke to a woman on Thursday who said the victim was like a niece to her. She's a woman Jackson lived with last summer. She painted Jackson as a confused teenager -- a girl who was taken advantage of and killed by the man she loved.

"I knew Justine since she was a little kid. She was funny, always happy and laughing."

The woman didn't want to be identified but she wanted to talk about Jackson - a girl she considered her niece.

"Up till the day she walked outta here she was happy because she thought he really wanted to be with her. If she only knew."

As the woman went through some of Jackson's belongings Thursday, she recalled some of her interests including the arts, her cat Ditzy and her boyfriend, Jonathan Beal.

"He sat on that couch with her almost on top of her and acted like he was sickening in love with her," said the woman. "That's the last thing she ever sat on before she left here."

That was September of last year. Jackson's body was found about a month later just down the road in Larimer Township. Investigators said Beal admitted the two had gotten into an argument before he strangled her and buried her under a viaduct along the Great Allegheny Passage trail.

Beal has been in jail, charged with homicide until Wednesday when he pleaded guilty to lesser charges that come with a lesser sentence.

"To kill somebody and get 24 years is like a vacation," said the woman.

"I felt and the family agreed that we would have a tremendous burden to prove murder (in the first degree,)" said Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser.

But the woman Jackson lived with for a summer and called her aunt said she isn't getting the justice she deserved.

"He'll never be in the place poor Jackson is and I hope it haunts him every day of his life," said the woman.

Lazzari-Strasiser said Jackson family was aware of some underlying circumstances in Beal and Jackson's relationship that they didn't want to become public. She said they were pleased with the plea deal.

In addition to voluntary manslaughter, Beal pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. His sentencing is set for Nov. 26.

Stay with 6 News and for continuing coverage.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times