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Man who allegedly plotted to kill his grandmother also facing drug charges

Published October 25. 2012 05:02PM

An Ashfield man who is already behind bars for allegedly plotting to kill his grandmother for inheritance money in September also faces drug and child endangerment charges after a state trooper found 20 bags of heroin stuck under his belly in May.

Jacob G. Wertman, 23, on Wednesday waived his right to a preliminary hearing before District Judge Edward Lewis of Jim Thorpe on charges of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (a felony); possession; possession of drug paraphernalia; two counts of driving under the influence of drugs and endangering the welfare of a child.

The hearing would have been held by Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias and Assistant District Attorney Jane Engler.

The charges stem from a May 27 traffic stop by Trooper Michael Walsh of the Lehighton barracks. Wertman was driving a car that also carried his girlfriend, Amber Steigerwalt, whom he allegedly convinced to stab his grandmother in the neck in September; Steigerwalt's toddler; and William Daniel McHose, 26, of Lehighton.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Walsh was on duty and driving his cruiser along Route 209 in Lehighton when he noticed the car ahead of him had a broken brake light. Walsh pulled the driver, identified as Wertman, over. Steigerwalt, 19, was in the front passenger seat. McHose was in the rear passenger seat, next to Steigerwalt's young son.

Wertman was not wearing a seat belt, and appeared extremely nervous. He began to breathe very heavily and sweat profusely, Walsh wrote in the affidavit.

"His forehead was soaked with sweat as I engaged in conversation with him," the trooper wrote.

Walsh noticed track marks on Wertman's arms, that his pupils were constricted and his eyes bloodshot and glassy. Wertman's voice was slow, low and raspy.

Wertman told Walsh he was on his way to drop off his friend, "Billy," at his home in Lehighton. Wertman claimed to not know "Billy's" real name or last name, even though he said they were "good friends."

Wertman said he had just gotten out of a rehabilitation program for heroin addiction, and that he had taken some prescribed Suboxone, a drug used to help wean heroin addicts from their habit.

Walsh then spoke with Steigerwalt, who claimed she did not know McHose, but that she knew he was Wertman's friend.

The trooper then spoke with McHose, whose eyes were extremely bloodshot and glassy. He also had constricted pupils and was very nervous.

McHose told Walsh that he and Wertman were good friends, but did not know each other's last names.

At that point, state Trooper Brian Shandra and Cpl. Shawn Noonan arrived. Wertman agreed to allow police to search his car. Walsh found a small cardboard box holding 140 bags of heroin under the driver's seat.

Wertman muttered "It's mine ... she (Steigerwalt) did not know anything about it ... it's mine."

Walsh arrested Wertman and put him in the patrol car. The drugs were also secured.

McHose denied any knowledge of the drugs, and Steigerwalt showed extreme shock and began to cry. She said she thought Wertman had stopped using heroin during his rehab stay.

McHose was released, and walked away. Police took Steigerwalt and her son home. Wertman was taken to Palmerton Hospital for a drug test. As he was being searched before entering the hospital, he told police he had two bags of heroin under his stomach. Walsh pulled 20 bags of the drug from beneath Wertman's belly. At 1:54 a.m., Wertman agreed to a blood test, and admitted to being under the influence of heroin. The phlebotomist was unable to draw blood from Wertman's heroin-ravaged veins.

Wertman was taken to the state police barracks in Lehighton for processing. There, he waived his Miranda rights and told police he last used heroin at 11 p.m. the day before. At first, he said neither McHose nor Steigerwalt knew the heroin was in his car, but then said half the drug belonged to McHose but that he would take the rap for it.

Walsh at 4:10 a.m. spoke with on-call Assistant District Attorney James Lavelle, who recommended releasing Wertman and filing charges once the lab results were received. The drugs and Wertman's written statement were entered into evidence, and Wertman was released at 6 a.m.

On July 26, Walsh received the lab results that determined the drug was indeed heroin.

Five months later, Wertman and Steigerwalt allegedly conspired to kill Wertman's grandmother in her Ashfield home to get his inheritance. The two lay in wait at the grandmother's home. When she arrived home from work at 8 p.m. Sept. 24, she found the house dark and locked. Wertman confronted her at the door, and then Steigerwalt her baby sitting on the floor nearby lunged at her with a knife, stabbing her in the neck twice, police said.

Steigerwalt grabbed the baby and ran.

The grandmother has since recovered from her wounds.

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