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Man says divorce triggered threat

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 9:41 a.m.

A wheelchair-bound Hempfield Township man charged with threatening to kill a Westmoreland County judge said he was lashing out because of a frustrating divorce.

Samuel H. Shoemaker, 48, was scheduled to appear before District Judge James E. Albert, of Greensburg, on Thursday to answer to charges of terroristic threats and retaliation against a judicial official.

Lawyers on both sides met throughout the day to discuss a plea bargain. Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan said he couldn't comment on an arrangement. Defense lawyer Dennis Rafferty said no deal had been made, but that the defendant waived his right to a preliminary hearing, meaning it will continue in county court at a later date.

According to county detectives, Shoemaker threatened family court Judge John Driscoll numerous times during a paternity hearing on April 18.

"I'm going to kill the (expletive). I'm going to kill the judge. He is going to deny the petition," Shoemaker told Deputy Sheriff Tommy Wynkoop, according to court papers. Wynkoop told Shoemaker to calm down, but the talk continued. When Wynkoop said he was going to write a report on the comments, Shoemaker allegedly said, "That's OK, if I ever see this man out in the street, I'm going to break his neck with these two hands."

Shoemaker's arrest affidavit states he also made threatening remarks about Driscoll to his divorce lawyer, Amy Cunningham, who told him to stop. Later, Shoemaker directed more threats toward Driscoll while riding with Cunningham in the courthouse elevator, court papers say.

Shoemaker was left disabled after being badly burned in a trucking accident in 1994. He said he thinks the charges should be withdrawn because he was only venting his frustration with divorce court and that he isn't a threat.

"This is as high as I can raise my arm," he said, holding his left arm about shoulder-height. "Do you think I'd be able to break your neck?"

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