Man enters no-contest plea in shooting case

EBENSBURG – A Portage man who withdrew a guilty plea for aggravated assault in November entered a no-contest plea for the same crime Thursday and will spend the next two to four years in Cambria County Prison.

Benjamin Gordon Schoenfeld, 34, had been charged with attempted criminal homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment for the December 2012 shooting of Donald E. Lewis III.

According to police, Schoenfeld showed up at Lewis’ house on the 600 block of Maken Street about 2:30 a.m. Dec. 11 and pounded on the door, threatening Lewis and telling him he was going to come back with a gun.

He returned later with a Glock 40 Smith & Wesson and fired a single shot through a window at Lewis’ front door. The bullet traveled through Lewis’ arm and into a living room wall.

Schoenfeld originally pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge but then told Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki, through his attorney, Thomas M. Dickey, that he believed he was acting in self-defense when he shot Lewis. He said he wanted the case to go to trial.

Dickey said Friday that Schoenfeld agreed to the no-contest plea in front of President Judge Timothy Creany, during what was supposed to be a suppression hearing regarding statements Schoenfeld made to police after the shooting.

Schoenfeld allegedly told police he wished the shot would have killed Lewis.

The problem with the previous plea, Dickey said, was that it would have sent Schoenfeld to a state correctional institution, which wouldn’t provide for automatic parole for good behavior once his client reached the minimum sentence.

Now that Schoenfeld will be housed at Cambria County Prison, with credit for 13 months already served, he could be released before January 2015 if he behaves, Dickey said.

“Early parole was less likely for a state sentence,” Dickey said. “He could easily have served three, four … he could have done five years very easily on this charge.”

The deal also provided for a shorter maximum sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Beth Bolton Penna said the plea change came as a surprise, but that the prosecution is happy with the results.

She said the DA’s office never planned to seriously pursue the attempted homicide charge.

“We, from the beginning, really, felt that we would drop that charge as long as he pleaded to one of the aggravated assault charges,” she said. “That’s all we wanted from the very beginning. So, we were happy with that.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.