The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 30, 2013

3 face trial in home invasion

— Three suspects in a Feb. 24 home invasion in the Moxham section of Johnstown were held for trial following a dramatic preliminary hearing Monday at District Judge Leonard Grecek’s courtroom in Roxbury.

James L. Schroll, 38; Charles A. Meyer, 32; and Jason Maines, 34, all of Johnstown, face a total of more than 30 counts in the incident in which police say about a pound of marijuana was mistakenly delivered to a family’s Highland Avenue home.

The incident culminated with Schroll and Meyer confronting one of the home’s residents with guns, which led to a struggle and resulted in Schroll and the resident getting shot.

William Cawthorne came into court on crutches and said he was still recovering from the shot to his leg and three surgeries to repair the damage.

He testified Monday he was working on renovations that day at the home, which was owned by his girlfriend. A United Parcel Service delivery worker arrived with a package and gave it to his girlfriend, he testified. In addition to his girlfriend, his teenage nephew and two young children were in the home.

The couple opened the package and found what appeared to be marijuana in a plastic bag in a bucket.

His girlfriend was on probation, he said, so they were afraid to contact the authorities, at first.

Soon Maines and an unidentified man came to the house and asked for the package, but Cawthorne said he told them there was no package.

Later, he said, Maines was back, this time with Meyer. The two offered money for the package, and then started making threats, Cawthorne testified.

“There is going to be trouble like you’ve never seen,” he said Maines told him.

After they left, a decision was made.

“I said, ‘That’s it. I’m going to the cops,’ ” he recalled.

The entire family drove to Johnstown police headquarters, where Cawthorne said he and his girlfriend went inside while his nephew and the children waited in the car.

Police accepted the package, had them write statements and sent them on their way.

Cawthorne went back to remodeling work and his girlfriend went to talk to a neighbor when there was pounding on the back door, he testified.

Looking out, he said he saw Meyer and Schroll, with their hands in “lumpy pockets.”

He told them he was going to get the key for the door, but raced back through the living room and told his children and nephew to run upstairs and hide. Almost immediately, he said, the two defendants broke through the door and came down the hall. Both had guns.

“He put a revolver in my face,” Cawthorne said, indicating Schroll. “He pointed the barrel at my nose and said, ‘Give me your (expletive) cell- phone.’ ”

When he handed over the phone, Cawthorne said, he was able to grab the gun by the cylinder and started struggling with Schroll while Meyer tried to intervene.

“I was trying to pull the revolver away and use (Schroll) to move between me and (Meyer),” he said. “Meyer was cracking the crap out of my head with the gun.”

The repeated blows to his head created wounds that took six staples to close, he said.

“I was pushing the gun down,” he said demonstrating the motion below his knee.

“Then all of a sudden: ‘Bang,’ and a lot of pain.”

The bullet apparently went through Cawthorne’s lower leg and knee and struck Schroll in the head.

“I didn’t see it hit him, but everything dropped at that point,”  Cawthorne said. “He was out. He was making a snoring noise.”

Cawthorne said he grabbed the revolver and struggled to move away from Schroll in case he regained consciousness.

“Meyer started screaming, ‘You (expletive) killed him. You (expletive) killed him,’ and took off,” Cawthorne said.

Cawthorne said he was struggling to remain conscious as he retrieved his cellphone and dialed 911.

“It seemed like seconds later, there were cops everywhere,” he said.

Pittsburgh attorneys Jim Crosby, representing Meyer; Steven C. Townsend, representing Maines; and George William Bills Jr., representing Schroll, pressed Cawthorne for details and asked why the family did not immediately call police.

“You made a collective decision to destroy the evidence?” Townsend asked.

Cawthorne repeated his concern about his girlfriend getting in trouble with the probation office if they turned in the drugs.

“There were options,” Cawthorne said: “Take it to the police; give it to the drug dealers; or burn it.”

When Townsend asked if they decided to keep something they knew was not their property, Cawthorne said:

“There are two answers to that. One answer is: Yes, we knew it was not ours. The second answer is: Our street is bad enough. No more weed was coming to our street.”

Grecek held all three defendants for court on all charges.

Meyer and Schroll, who came into the courtroom wearing a protective helmet, are each charged with burglary, two counts of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, two counts of criminal trespass, attempted drug possession with intent to deliver and four counts of conspiracy in conjunction with burglary, robbery, assault and drug possession. Schroll also faces a robbery charge. Most of the counts are felonies.

Maines is charged with making terroristic threats, witness intimidation and three counts each of attempted drug possession and attempted drug possession with intent to deliver.

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