By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT -- A hearing for a Falls man to plead guilty to a string of convenience store robberies came to an abrupt halt this week, when he seemed to suggest that he was being pressured to make a deal with prosecutors.
Paul Schubert was in the middle of pleading guilty to a pair of felony robbery charges on Wednesday, when Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas asked him a routine question about whether anyone had "pressured or coerced" him to accept a plea in his case. Schubert, who had earlier said he has been diagnosed as being bipolar, schizophrenic and having anger management issues, reacted by shaking his head and twisting in his shackles.
When Farkas said she was concerned by Schubert's body language in response to her question, the 21-year-old told her his public defender had told him if he failed to plead guilty he might face "25 years in prison."
"Well," the judge replied, "he's telling you the truth. If you don't accept this plea and you're found guilty at a trial, you face substantially more (prison) time than the (10 year maximum sentence) I have committed to."
Schubert then shocked the courtroom by telling Farkas that his public defender had told him, "I'm not paid enough to get you a better sentence."
The judge told Schubert, "I am sure that is not what (the public defender) told you." and then declared, "This case is not going to be a plea."
Farkas stopped the hearing and told prosecutors to take Schubert's case to the grand jury.
Schubert, who seemed stunned by the reaction, reacted angrily, swearing at his lawyer and struggling with court officers and Niagara County Sheriff's deputies as they took him from the courtroom.
Prosecutors had offered Schubert the chance to plead guilty to charges of attempted first-degree robbery and second-degree robbery before presenting his case to a Niagara County grand jury. While Schubert could have faced up to 30 years behind bars on those charges, Farkas had agreed to sentence him to no more than 10 years in prison.
He is currently charged with first- and second-degree robbery, second-degree attempted robbery, second-degree menacing and fourth-degree grand larceny for the robbery of two 7-11 convenience stores and the attempted robbery of a third store between Sept. 5 and 12.
He has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is being held at the Niagara County Jail in lieu of $65,000 bail.
Schubert reportedly committed the robberies while he was in a judicial diversion program on another criminal case. With the case now headed to the grand jury, prosecutors have indicated that Schubert will face charges for additional robberies.