The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 4, 2013

Guilty plea withdrawn in shooting

EBENSBURG — Minutes before a Portage man was to be sentenced on charges that he shot another man in what police say was a drug-related incident, he told the judge that he’d changed his mind.

Benjamin Gordon Schoenfeld, 33, of the 900 block of Jefferson Avenue, through his attorney, Thomas Dickey, said he was acting in self-defense when he shot Donald E. Lewis III in December.

“He believes he is innocent and has a defense of self-defense,” Dickey told Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki on Monday. “He wants to go to trial.”

Schoenfeld was charged late last year with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and recklessly endangering another person.

On Sept. 12, he entered a guilty plea in Cambria County court to one count of aggravated assault, a felony of the second degree.

At the time of the shooting, Portage police said they were dispatched to Lewis’ residence in the 600 block of Maken Street.

Portage Chief Ed Miller said at the time that Schoenfeld allegedly pounded on the door and shot Lewis through the door’s glass window.

Lewis received a gunshot wound to an arm and was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown for a wound that police said did not appear to be life threatening.

Schoenfeld fled the scene and reportedly returned to his home before he turned himself into police without incident, Miller said.

The handgun used in the shooting was later recovered.

Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Beth Bolton Penna told the judge she learned of the request to withdraw the plea 15 minutes before the scheduled sentencing.

She said she had no time to prepare a response to the request and has concerns over availability of witnesses and the victim.

“This case has been dragged out for some time, and I ask no continuances be granted and we go to trial the next term,” she said.

Penna said that if Schoenfeld again changes his mind he will not “get anything this light” as the deal being rejected.

Tulowitzki said he will take the matter up again on Nov. 13.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at

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What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

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