Bethany Bernatsky embodied the same spiritual qualities as the horses she grew up riding since the age of 2 and training up until her murder at the age of 46. The beloved Brainerd woman was known nationally for her ethereal approach to the animal, and people who knew her say she is irreplaceable.

"To this day I haven't met anybody like her," said Venice LeRoy Liston, of Riverside, Calif. "In all the years I've been riding, 36 years, I've never met anybody like her that has her compassion and heart. The best trainer I've ever met. ... It's kind of discouraging because I don't know that I will find anyone like her."

Bernatsky was murdered in a case of mistaken identity Oct. 7, 2021. Cameron Moser, high on meth and armed with a rifle, walked into cabin No. 5 at Cozy Bay Resort on Lake Edward in Nisswa and shot her. His ex-girlfriend's parents previously owned the resort. Officials say the intended target resembled Bernatsky.

Moser, 32, entered a guilty plea last week and received a 34-year sentence. With credit for time served and under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, he will be eligible for release from the St. Cloud prison in 2044.

The legal conclusion comes more than two years after the murder due to the pandemic disrupting court proceedings and because Moser had several changes in attorneys, said Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan.

"I think it's good for the community and for Bethany's family to have this come to a final conclusion," Ryan said.

Moser was to stand trial in July. Ryan said they reached a deal in recent weeks after Moser agreed to plead guilty to intentional second-degree murder. A grand jury indicted him on premeditated first-degree murder, but as part of the agreement that charge was dropped, avoiding a life sentence.

His attorney, Dan Hawley, declined to comment beyond the plea and what was said in court Wednesday.

"I haven't always been at peace with the decisions that he made," brother Ben Bernatsky said of Moser. "Hopefully he'll be a changed person when he comes out."

Their mother, Clare Bernatsky, died in October. She had dementia and didn't know what happened to her daughter, he said. George Bernatsky died in 2001. He was a talented horse trainer in Brainerd, too, and instilled the equine passion in his daughter. Before most kids learn how to ride a bike, Bethany was on horseback.

Awards and accolades soon followed. The local newspaper headline in 1989 shared that she won the champion junior rider title for Central States Dressage and Combined Training Association, a seven-state competition. She was on the cover of Horseman's News magazine in 2001. She later joined the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions to perform in Florida and participated in international exhibitions.

In Southern California, Bernatsky trained Ann Romney's horse during Mitt's bid for president. Bernatsky was the assistant head trainer at Medieval Times in Buena Park and worked at Liston Training Stables.

"We really do miss her a lot. She's a pretty amazing person. They don't make them like her anymore," said owner Liston, who described Bernatsky as spiritual and kind.

A best friend of Bernatsky for more than 20 years, Melissa Korby, of Fergus Falls, said even when Bernatsky was alive she had a hard time describing her to others because she's so ethereal.

"She could just talk to the horses like she was just in touch with another world that we're not able to and just so peaceful and so spiritual," Korby said.

Korby said Bernatsky trained a horse of hers in 2010 and before they knew it, they were buying a stable together and going into business. They became best friends, practically sisters. She said Bernatsky's laugh was magnetic, "almost like a meditation tape." She was humble, gentle, nonjudgmental, a hugger who always said "I love you," the last words Korby heard from her at a horse training a week before her murder.

Bernatsky was known for training celebrity horses, but she took in a mule once. She also passed down her love of horses to her daughter, Arielle Rutledge, who graduated from City University of New York School of Law in May.

Bernatsky's daughter and loved ones attended Moser's plea hearing and sentencing Wednesday, where they shared unscripted victim impact statements. They said no amount of time will bring her back.

"To me it's more about keeping a dangerous person off the street," Korby said. "She was truly the kindest person, just the last person you would think anything like this would ever happen to."