Donna Fox was one of many who packed a St. Johnsbury courtroom to see if Benjamin Berwick, 51, would admit to killing his estranged wife, Anna, three years ago.
"I still can't believe it," Fox said. "I still look at the phone every morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. She always called me, we always got together and had coffee."
But prior to grabbing a cup of coffee on that snowy December morning back in 2009, Anna agreed to meet her estranged husband in the parking lot of the Green Mountain Mall.
"It was a meeting that Anna was set to request back clothing from her deceased son," Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren said.
Anna's son had recently died of cancer and she wanted a fire helmet that belonged to him. But Benjamin Berwick apparently had another reason for meeting. The two were in the process of separating. Anna claimed she could no longer take being the victim of domestic violence.
"He slit her throat," Warren said. "There were defensive wounds on her hands."
Vt. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Manley: Did you do that?
Benjamin Berwick: Yes.
Judge Manley: To the charge of second-degree murder, how do you plead?
Benjamin Berwick's second-degree murder trial was scheduled to begin next week. If convicted, he faced 20 years to life in prison. Under the terms of the plea deal he will serve 18 years behind bars. The plea agreement must be approved by the judge. A formal sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date.
Anna Berwick's family declined to speak on camera, but told WCAX the sentence is too light. Prosecutors say it is consistent with other second-degree murder convictions.
"I do believe it addresses public safety," Warren said. "He will have various conditions of probation which we believe are very sufficiently tight, that will keep him under the tight and watchful eye of probation and parole including electronic monitoring."
Donna Fox says she misses sipping coffee and margaritas with Anna Berwick, along with their dinner dates to Chili's and shopping trips to the Christmas Tree Shop. She, too, agrees the sentence is too light, but also says no sentence would be enough.
"No amount of time is going to bring Anna back," Fox said. "She was like a sister to me."
If Berwick violates his probation after his release, he must return to prison for five years, or could be resentenced.
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