ST. ALBANS — Anna Alger loved camping and country music. Her 11-year-old daughter, Destiney, is learning to play guitar, but Anna will never listen to her practice, never proudly attend a school concert.
Because on Sept. 25, 2013, Matthew Webster aimed a gun at Anna Alger, pulled the trigger 11 times and ended her life. The two had never met.
On Wednesday morning, a jury convicted Webster, 31, of Swanton, of second-degree murder. The verdict came after five days of trial, 22 witnesses, and four hours of deliberations.
As the verdict was read Anna’s fiancé Patrick Dalley gasped, clenching his right hand into a fist and moved it in the universal gesture of victory.
Anna’s family and friends, including her mother, Rebecca, grandmother Gladys, and sister, Virginia, held themselves together until they’d made their way from the courtroom. Then there were tears, huge hugs and a few smiles.
As for Webster, he did not react as the verdict was read, although he had frequently rested his forehead in his hand and looked down, and occasionally wiped away tears during the course of the trial.
Speaking for the family, Anna’s best friend, Amanda Moore, said the verdict brought “a mixture of sadness and happiness.”
“Justice has been served,” said Dalley.
Anna’s family and friends have attended every motion hearing and status conference, no matter how routine or how treacherous the winter roads, throughout the 21 months it took to get a verdict.
But there is still one more hearing to attend. Webster must still be sentenced. He is facing 20 years to life on the murder conviction. He also was convicted of reckless endangerment for pointing a gun at Dalley and negligent operation for running a red light. He has been in jail since the shooting and will remain there while awaiting sentencing.
Gladys Alger told the Messenger she wants a sentence of life without parole.
Anna’s family and friends have been vocal in their calls for justice, building a street-side memorial to Anna first at the site of her death and then, more permanently, at St. Albans Bay.
They’ve held fundraisers in her memory to raise money for Destiney, with 165 people attending the first in November 2013.
Throughout the trial Moore and Anna’s sister, Virginia, wore necklaces with a small bottle attached. Inside the bottles were some of Anna’s ashes.
Anna Alger was born on Nov. 13, 1981, to Loyd Thompson and Rebecca Alger.
“She loved life,” said family friend Dave Iwaskiewicz, who attended every moment of the trial.
“She was a wonderful mother, friend, loved her family,” said Dalley, who also described her as “a very good person.”
Her obituary says Anna had an infectious laugh, which is easy to imagine after seeing the joking and good-natured teasing among her friends and family. The occasional teasing stopped during the trial itself, returning only after the jury began its deliberations.
In November 2013, Anna’s stepmother Ann Morris told the Messenger Anna was a devoted mother. “You didn’t see one without the other,” she said of Destiney and Anna. “Anna spent all her waking hours, outside of work, with her.”
Destiney now lives with Anna’s grandparents, although talking with the family it’s clear Anna’s siblings and parents also are pitching in to care for her. “She’s gonna be happy,” vowed Gladys.
Moving in with her great-grandparents meant changing schools. Asked how Destiney was doing in her new school, Gladys said she had ended the recent school year with four A’s.
“It’s just hard,” Morris said. “It’s hard just to look at her daughter and not see Anna. No matter how much love and support that little girl gets, she’ll never have her mother.”
Destiney, like her mother, has red hair. Morris said Anna was a “spit-fire redhead” who willing shared her opinions. Anna wasn’t mean, said Morris, but she was blunt.
Anna was also caring. After graduating from Missisquoi Valley Union in 2000, she became a licensed nursing assistant and began taking care of the elderly, working in several nursing homes.
“It really fit her personality,” Morris said. “She had always wanted to get into nursing.”
In 2010, Anna took a break from caring for others to work at Peerless Clothing. It was there she met Dalley, a former firefighter. The two were friends for two years before they began dating. They were living in Highgate with Destiney at the time of Anna’s death.
Throughout the trial, Anna’s family listened to witnesses describe not only the shooting itself, but the vicissitudes of Matthew Webster’s life – depression, anxiety, misuse of prescription opiates, marital troubles, and a history of simply not taking responsibility for his life and his choices.
They also learned that Matthew Webster carried guns. Two of them, concealed on his person, along with extra ammunition. Where he went, the guns went.
Listening in court in June 2014, when Webster’s confession was played publicly for the first time, Gladys Alger asked a single question. She asked it more than once. “Why did he have a gun?”
Webster told police he had gotten the 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun with which he ended Anna’s life from his father, because he was afraid of a neighbor who had recently been released from prison.
During the confession, Det. Ben Couture assures Webster multiple times that he hadn’t broken any laws by carrying loaded handguns while driving on public roads. “It’s legal,” said Couture.