Confessed murderer Ben Berwick, 51, nodded to his family as he entered a St. Johnsbury courtroom. Four months after striking a deal with prosecutors, it's sentencing day.
"This is the matter of state verses Benjamin Berwick," Vt. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Manley said.
In 2009, the Lyndon man slit his estranged wife's throat with a filet knife in the parking lot of a St. Johnsbury shopping center three days after Christmas. Anna Berwick, 45, was pronounced dead at the scene.
"Based on the lengthy trail of blood between Anna's van and her body, she had apparently been trying to flee the brutal attack," Caledonia County Prosecutor Lisa Warren said.
It's an image Anna's family would rather forget. They try to remember the mother of three differently.
"Full of pep. She was always smiley. She had the sparkliest eyes you ever saw," said Jane Handley, Anna's sister.
The family says that all changed when she met and married Berwick. He was physically abusive, kept her from her family and eventually killed her after she decided to leave him.
"You can't imagine the pain there is in my heart. I have the rest of my life to be alone without my best friend," said Rose Terry, Anna's sister.
"What he did to her was one of the most despicable, low-life, un-American things anyone could do to someone," said Harlan Miles, Anna's son.
Ben Berwick apologized to Anna's family and said he would take it back if he could.
"I understand the pain I caused and I only hope someday they will forgive me," he said.
Judge Manley approved a plea deal that keeps Berwick behind bars for 18 years; two years shy of the state minimum for second-degree murder. He's also required to complete a domestic violence treatment program while in prison. Prosecutors say it's a fair sentence given the risks at trial, but the victim's family disagrees with the deal.
"It's a slap in the face. Getting away with murder, pretty much what he's done," said John Conley, Anna's brother.
Outside the court, Anna's siblings hugged. They say the only silver lining to this tragedy is that it's brought them all a little closer.
"We realize that we never know when our last day together will be," said Laurie Landry, Anna's sister.
"Every minute is more precious," Handley added.
"Yeah, for sure," Landry agreed.
Berwick will get credit for the time he's already served in prison. He'll be 65 when he's released.
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