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Grandmother testifies against grandson and his girlfriend in Ashfield stabbing

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Amber Steigerwalt, 19, of Lehighton, and Jacob Wertman, 23, of Lehighton, are escorted to their preliminary hearing Thursday before District Judge William Kissner of Palmerton.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Amber Steigerwalt, 19, of Lehighton, and Jacob Wertman, 23, of Lehighton, are escorted to their preliminary hearing Thursday before District Judge William Kissner of Palmerton.
Published October 19. 2012 05:02PM

Charges against a Carbon County man and his girlfriend who allegedly plotted to kill a family member have been bound over to court.

Jacob Wertman, 23, of Lehighton, and Amber Steigerwalt, 19, of Lehighton, will have a pretrial status conference in the county Court of Common Pleas on Nov. 15.

Wertman and Steigerwalt had a preliminary hearing Thursday before District Judge William Kissner of Palmerton on charges they allegedly conspired to kill Wertman's grandmother at her home in Ashfield, East Penn Township, with whom the defendants lived.

Both individuals face charges on three counts of criminal conspiracy, and two counts each of aggravated assault and simple assault. They remain lodged in Carbon County Prison in lieu of $500,000 straight bail.

Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias called the victim, Marge Wertman, to the stand to testify.

Marge said she returned home from her job at Pleasant Trees Personal Care Home just after 8 p.m. Sept. 24. She said as she entered her kitchen, it was totally dark, and the door was locked.

"I unlocked the door, and my grandson was standing facing me," Marge said. "He had a black shirt on, and a black bandanna around his head. I said 'what's up', and he just stared at me."

At that point, Marge said she went around the corner of the table, as her grandson, Jacob followed her.

"Then, Amber comes out with her head covered, and she comes at me and attacks me," she said. "She had her shirt up over her mouth and nose, something covering her head, and she lunged at me, in a stabbing motion."

Marge said she recalls being stabbed by Steigerwalt twice.

"I could feel like my neck would have been bleeding, and I remember trying to shove her, and I staggered to my other counter," she said. "Her baby was sitting on the floor, and Amber grabbed her baby and ran upstairs."

As this was going on, Marge said Jacob, "did nothing."

"I went in the side room, thinking I have to get out," she said. "My grandson wouldn't let me out, and he put his arm up against the door and wouldn't let me out."

At that, Marge said she grabbed the phone to call 911, but "he made me hang the phone up."

"I said Jake, I got to call 911, I'm bleeding," she said. "I said, why did she do this?

Marge said the phone then rang, and Jacob answered it and said his 1 1/2-year-old son was playing with the phone and that everything was fine.

After nearly an hour, Marge said Jacob drove her to Blue Mountain Health System's Gnaden Huetten Memorial campus in Lehighton.

Also called to the stand by Dobias was Trooper Joseph Campbell, of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Campbell testified that Steigerwalt admitted to the act, which she said was Jacob's idea.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed by Campbell:

On Sept. 24, at about 8 p.m., Marge Wertman arrived home at her residence located 109 Blue Mountain Road. Upon her arrival home, she was met by her grandson, Jacob Wertman, and his girlfriend, Steigerwalt, who were lying in wait within the interior of the residence, according to the affidavit.

The two individuals had discussed earlier about killing Marge by stabbing her with a knife upon her arriving home from work after 8 p.m., the affidavit says. Jacob has supplied Steigerwalt with a small kitchen knife, and he grabbed a larger serrated blade knife and they hid within the kitchen area of the residence and had turned out the lights.

When Marge entered the kitchen area, Steigerwalt approached her and then stabbed her in the neck with a knife on two occasions, causing visible injury. Marge then attempted to choke Steigerwalt, and Jacob inquired what was wrong and what happened to her.

Marge then dialed 911 and contacted the Carbon County Communications Center and requested assistance, but Jacob hung up the phone. When county dispatcher Katie McGinley contacted the residence again after the hang up call, Jacob answered the phone and stated that everything was all right at the residence, and that it was their one-year-old son playing with the phone.

Jacob then waited about one hour until he transported Marge to Blue Mountain Health System's Gnaden Huetten Memorial Campus in Lehighton for treatment of her injuries.

Marge sustained two puncture wounds to her neck in the area of her carotid artery, and she was later life flighted to Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest campus, where she was listed in stable condition.

Steigerwalt was interviewed at PSP Lehighton by troopers Shawn Flynn and Craig Dadurka on Sept. 24 at 10:35 p.m., at which time she admitted to participating in the commission of the crime, and that she had discussed it with Jacob at length over the previous week.

She then related that Jacob had approached her about killing his grandparents, and then disposing of the bodies, and that they would never suspect him since he was their grandson. Steigerwalt then related that Jacob had decided that Sept. 24 would be the day that they would try and kill his grandparents because his grandfather would be away at bingo and his grandmother would be arriving home from work alone at around 8:05 p.m. Jacob had then discussed killing his grandfather, Thomas Wertman, upon his return home from bingo, and he had moved his car to the side of the residence to give the appearance that he was no longer at the residence.

Upon the victim's arrival home, Jacob turned off the interior lights and he waited on one side of the kitchen, while Steigerwalt waited behind the door from the screen room. Jacob had went into a drawer in the kitchen and obtained two knives; one was small silver paring knife which had about a 2-inch blade, and the other was a larger serrated blade.

After the victim walked into the kitchen, Steigerwalt lunged at Marge with the knife, and stabbed her in the neck on two occasions. Steigerwalt did not realize at first what had happened, and then she freaked out and ran out of the house, and was later picked up down the street at the park near the fire company.

A nighttime search warrant was approved by Dobias, and later signed by Magistrate Edward Lewis on Sept. 25.

Campbell then executed the search warrant at the victim's residence. During the course of the assault, Campbell located two knives in the area of the kitchen sink. The alleged knife that was utilized in the assault was located in the kitchen sink, and it appeared as though it had been cleaned with water, and there was still water on the blade.

Campbell also located a large serrated blade kitchen knife that had a total length of about 15-inches, and was allegedly utilized by Jacob during the assault; however, he did not stab the victim. The knife was located on the countertop area of the kitchen sink.

There was a large amount of drug paraphernalia and hypodermic needles, as well as packing material for heroin located within the residence; specifically within Jacob's room and within the living room in the area where the chairs and end tables were located.

Steigerwalt admitted doing "Gook", or Meth and "scrapples", left over residue within heroin packets, which she ingested earlier in the evening.

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