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Prosecutors unsure they could have proved Beal had intent to kill

By: Maria Miller

SOMERSET COUNTY, Pa. --

A Somerset County man has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the strangling death of his girlfriend. Investigators said Jonathan Beal killed Justine Jackson before burying her body in a shallow grave last November.

His plea to lesser charges comes as a shocking ending for some. It's a case that had many twists and turns. Not only were there several people in Meyersdale who seemed to know about Jackson's slaying before police, investigators said Beal fled the state before being captured in Louisiana. By pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter Wednesday, he's only facing 24 years in prison. On Thursday, 6 News asked why.

"We had discussed at great lengths the problems with the case and one of the issues was whether or not we could prove intent to kill," said Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser.

Beal was scheduled to go to trial on homicide charges within the next month, but that all changed Wednesday when he pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Lazzari-Strasiser said her team had enough to prove he killed Jackson and even had an admission from Beal himself.

"He admitted on record that he did kill her, that they were in an altercation that turned violent," said Lazarri-Strasiser. "As a result he ended up basically stopping her breathing and before he knew it she was dead. He panicked, dug the grave and hid the body."

But even with all that Lazzari-Strasiser said her team still didn't have enough to prove Beal meant to kill Jackson.

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

Beal was offered a deal -- A maximum sentence of 24 years in prison if he'd plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Beal to the deal, to which Lazzari-Strasiser said Jackson's family was pleased.

"Her family was here yesterday, her mom, dad, aunt and sister," she said. "They've been informed and participated from the beginning."

But there's at least one person who isn't happy with the outcome, a woman Jackson lived with for a summer and a woman she called her aunt.

"To kill somebody and only get 24 years is like a vacation," said Carolyn Drabish. "He'll never be in the place poor Justine is."

Beal's public defender said Beal did not mean for Jackson to die when the couple starting fighting; he said Beal just wanted to end their relationship.

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 WJACTV.com for continuing coverage.

 
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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times

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