A Meyersdale man faces up to 20 years in state prison when he is sentenced in connection with the murder of a Maryland woman whose body was found in a shallow grave.
Jonathan William Beal, 24, pleaded guilty in Somerset County court on Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in the death of 19-year-old Justine Marie Jackson.
A man found Jackson’s body on Nov. 11, 2012, on the Greater Allegheny Passage hiking trail in Larimer Township after she went missing two months earlier.
“He admitted there was an argument and that she was the aggressor and in an attempt to subdue her he strangled her,” Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said.
“In a panic, he dug a shallow grave to hide her body,” she said.
Lazzari-Strasiser said Jackson’s parents, aunt and sister were in court on Wednesday.
The family agreed to the plea offer because prosecutors were unable to prove that Beal intended to kill Jackson, which is necessary for a murder charge.
“We had trouble proving malice, which you need for first-degree (murder),” Lazzari-Strasiser said.
Beal’s attorney, public defender Steven Miller of Somerset, was not available for comment on Thursday.
Jackson, who was originally from Allegany County, Md., was living in Meyersdale at the time she went missing.
President Judge John M. Cascio is scheduled to sentence Beal on Nov. 26.
“It’s a sad, sad case with the worst ending,” the district attorney said.
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PatBuchnowskiTD.