Handyman who killed Whitehall girl lacking for almost a yr will get 17 to 40 years

Since her death nearly three years ago, what would have been Elizabeth Wiesenfeld’s first grandson was born and her first granddaughter is set to arrive soon.

But Betsy, as she was known to her family, never had the chance to meet them. Instead, she was killed and taken from her Whitehall home and left in a wooded area of ​​Plum, where she was found nearly a year later.

“I feel that my sister was just beginning a new chapter in her life, one that would be full of joy and satisfaction as she was a person with a great reservoir of love in her heart, and the role of grandmother would have been that outlet , that fulfillment,” wrote her brother, Christopher Lagi, in a victim impact statement to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. “She died on the verge of a great outpouring of love.”

On Monday, the man who killed Wiesenfeld, 67, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related counts before Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket.

As part of a plea agreement in the case, Douglas Berry, 50, of McKeesport, will serve 17 to 40 years in state prison.

He apologized to the victim’s family.

“I want everyone to know how sorry I am for the mistakes I’ve made,” he said. “I’ve learned to pray for forgiveness. I apologize to the family for not doing more, and I apologize to Betsy. I can’t move mountains.”

Wiesenfeld went missing the morning of April 30, 2019.

Deputy District Attorney Kevin Chernosky said her daughter, Kathleen Graham, received a text message at 11:11 am that day from her mother’s cellphone, saying that she had met someone and was leaving town.

Graham felt that was out of the ordinary and went to her mother’s home on East Barlind Drive and called the Whitehall police. Inside, they found signs of a struggle, including furniture out of place and apparent blood stains on the bedding.

Wiesenfeld’s home security system showed her front door had opened at 8:40 am, and her garage door opened at 8:55 am Later, surveillance footage from homes in the neighborhood showed a truck similar to one Berry drove pulling into her driveway. License plate reading cameras showed that same truck driving along Route 51 earlier that morning.

Chernosky said a man wearing a distinctive hooded sweatshirt also was seen using Wiesenfeld’s debit card to withdraw $500 from an ATM. Later, that same card was found melted inside a beer can at Berry’s home, the prosecutor said. The card had prints from Berry’s thumb and index finger on it.

Berry, who had performed handyman work at Wiesenfeld’s home, quickly became a suspect. He was charged with illegally possessing a firearm on May 2, 2019, and has remained in custody since then.

He was charged with criminal homicide in September 2019, before Wiesenfeld’s body was found on April 19, 2020, by a Plum police officer patrolling an area known for illegal dumping.

Chernosky told the court that a plea agreement had long been considered by the victim’s family, particularly before her body had been found.

“We very much desired to find her,” he said.

Prior to sentencing, prosecutors submitted 15 letters to Bicket, all of them describing the impact that Wiesenfeld’s death has had on her family.

She was one of six siblings and worked as a nurse at an adult day care facility. When her mother became ill, she cared for her.

Wiesenfeld was known for her soft, sweet and caring personality.

She was married to a former Pittsburgh police officer, who died several years ago. They had one daughter.

Wiesenfeld made everyone feel loved, her family wrote. She was gracious and compassionate.

She also loved God.

“She always wanted everyone she met to know that they were loved by God,” Graham said. “She would joke that she was a preacher and would never stop preaching.”

Graham wrote that, as an only child, she and her mother were very close. She last saw her a few days before Wiesenfeld was killed.

“I remember dropping her off at her house, and it was raining,” Graham said. “She stood in the rain at her front door and waved to me goodbye until I couldn’t see her anymore.

“That was my mother’s love, she wasn’t bothered by the rain at all. And when I think of my mom, I picture that last moment, her smiling and waving goodbye.”

Wiesenfeld made delicious artichoke dip and sweet potato casserole, said her loved ones, and was known as the glue that held their large extended family together.

Beth Graham, Kathleen Graham’s mother-in-law, wrote in her letter to the court that their families joined together for holidays, birthdays and Sunday suppers.

Beth Graham said that at Wiesenfeld’s mother’s funeral, Wiesenfeld sang “Amazing Grace” during the service.

Every night, as Beth Graham now rocks her grandson to sleep, she sings that song.

“I tell him how his grandma Betsy would have loved him and sang to him, too,” she wrote. “It makes me sad to know that he will never get a warm hug or an I love you from her.

“But one day I will tell him what a great grandma she would have been and how much she would have loved him.”

Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at pward@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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