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Man, woman who plotted to kill grandmother sent to prison

Published January 22. 2014 05:00PM

A Lehighton couple who plotted to kill his relative were sentenced to long state prison terms Tuesday in Carbon County court.

Judge Joseph J. Matika sentenced Jacob Gordon Wertman, 24, of Lehighton, to serve 54 to 120 months in a state prison in the plot to kill his grandmother and an additional six to 24 months on a drug charge.

Amber Lynn Steigerwalt, 20, of Lehighton, and the person who stabbed the victim, was given a state prison term of 54 to 120 months.

Wertman was sentenced on a charge of criminal conspiracy-aggravated assault. The drug charge he was sentenced on was possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Steigerwalt was sentenced on a charge of aggravated assault. The incident occurred on Sept. 24, 2012, at the Ashfield, East Penn Township, home of Wertman's grandmother, Marjorie Wertman.

According to state police at Lehighton, Mrs. Wertman returned home the evening of the attack where the two defendants were waiting for her. When she entered the home she saw her grandson and began to talk to him.

At that moment Steigerwalt came up behind her and stabbed her at least twice in the neck.

Mrs. Wertman was able to fight back and grabbed Steigerwalt by the throat and began to choke her. Steigerwalt managed to free herself and fled the home.

Mrs. Wertman was bleeding heavily and attempted to call 9-1-1 but her grandson interfered. He grabbed the phone and hung it up. When the communications center called back to see why the phone was hung up, Jacob Wertman told them a child had mistakingly made the call.

Jacob Wertman did eventually take his grandmother to the Lehighton hospital for treatment. She has since recovered from her injuries.

Drug habit

Yesterday Wertman blamed his actions on a long-term drug addiction problem. He said he started using drugs at a young age.

He expressed remorse to his grandparents, who raised him since he was 8 after the death of his mother.

He claimed he had used heroin heavily the day of the attack.

Defense attorney Joseph Perilli told Matika, "The most profound statement I heard from my client was that going to prison saved his life."

Wertman at first did not make a statement when asked by Matika, but later in the proceeding turned to his grandmother and said he was sorry.

District Attorney Gary F. Dobias told Matika that it was a troubling case. He said it was a planned attack and that the victim suffered not only physical injuries but emotional trauma as well.

"This couple has shown great strength during all of this," he said.

Mrs. Wertman read a letter addressed to her grandson. It began with the statement, "What did I do to deserve this."

She told Matika of the nightmares she still has of the incident and will probably have for a long, long time. She said she survived the attack physically, but emotionally she is still dealing with it.

She then said, "I love you both. I forgive you both, but it's time for you to pay the price."

In addition to the jail term Matika ordered Wertman to get both mental health and drug and alcohol evaluations and follow any recommendations for treatment, supply a DNA sample, pay total restitution for medical bills of $17,725,86; zero tolerance on D&A use, pay court costs, which average about $1,000, and render a total of 150 hours of community service when released on parole

He was given credit for 484 days spent in jail to date on the charges.

Drug use

Steigerwalt's attorney Michael P. Gough, read a letter he said his client wrote a short time after she was arrested.

In the letter Steigerwalt claimed she was not a drug or alcohol user until she met Wertman and began a relationship with him.

She further claimed that when Wertman first started to talk about killing his grandmother, she thought he was kidding. She said when he repeated the talk she brushed it aside saying that it was not going to happen.

She also said the day of the attack she was using smoking methamphetamine heavily. She said when they went to the grandmother's home Wertman handed her a knife and told her to hide.

She claimed when Mrs. Wertman entered the home she "freaked out" and started swinging the knife.

She said she felt terrible for what happened and said, "If I say I'm sorry a million times it won't change anything." She added, "I never thought I'd be here for something like this."

She expressed sorrow to Mrs. Wertman and her family.

Gough called several family members to speak on behalf of Steigerwalt, who has a young boy from another relationship.

Dobias said he wanted to incorporate what he said at the Wertman sentencing into the record in the Steigerwalt case.

Mrs. Wertman read the same letter she did to her grandson to Steigerwalt.

Matika said the presentence report prepared by the adult probation office paints a picture of two different persons. He said the one on drugs was the one who did the act.

He added he was troubled by Steigerwalt's attitude, that it was all a joke, then used the knife to stab the victim.

Matika told Steigerwalt it was not too late for her to turn her life around.

In addition to the jail term, Matika ordered Steigerwalt to render 100 hours of community service when released on parole, get both mental health and drug and alcohol evaluations, zero tolerance imposed on D&A use, supply a DNA sample, have no contact with the victim or her family, pay court costs, which average about $1,000, and make restitution of $17,725.86, which is the same amount ordered in the Jacob Wertman case and his half of the total due.

She was given credit for 484 days already spent in jail on the charges.

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