Following a two-and-a-half hour preliminary hearing on Wednesday afternoon in Bala Cynwyd, Judge Karen Zucker ruled to retain all the charges filed against Michael Shawn Schaefer in connection to , despite a request from his defense attorney that all the charges be dropped.
at 342 Montgomery Ave. in Merion-Cynwyd, was robbed at gunpoint on July 14 by four suspects. Deli employees and patrons, 19 in all, were ordered to the ground and three had wallets and cell phones stolen, according to police. .
Michael Shawn Schaefer, 40, was arrested on July 24 and charged on July 25 in connection to the crime.
Montgomery County Deputy District Attorney Thomas McGoldrick stated at Wednesday's preliminary hearing that evidence points toward Schaefer being the gunman who demanded money from Hymie's manager during the robbery.
Schaefer has been charged with 20 counts of robbery with threat of immediate serious injury, 20 counts of conspiracy to commit robbery with threat of immediate serious injury, four counts of robbery using force, four counts of theft by unlawful taking, and one count of prohibited firearm possession, among other lesser charges, according to court documents.
At the hearing, McGoldrick requested the charges be amended to read 19 counts of robbery and 19 counts of conspiracy to commit robbery. Added was one count of prohibited offensive weapon.
Hymie's manager Len Silow, Lower Merion police officer Paul Fontanes and Lower Merion police detective Walter Kerr all testified during the hearing.
Deli Manager Testifies: "I Was Numb"
Silow was the manager at work the night of July 14. He told the court he remembered a short, pudgy, black man entering through the back door of the restaurant with a silver handgun. The man told everyone to lie down, Silow said.
Silow recalled making his way to the front register and , which she did, leaving the phone off the hook. Silow had three envelopes of receipts, totaling about $3,500, on his person, which he tossed away in hopes the robbers wouldn't find it. He then laid down with the rest of the employees and customers.
Someone called out for the manager, Silow said.
A different gunman, this one taller and skinnier than the first, also black, told Silow to take him to the safe. When Silow told him that the safe was not in use, the gunman demanded to be taken to the register.
"I didn't look at his face," Silow said. "I didn't want to make eye contact, I didn't want to make a false move. He had a gun."
While working to open the cash register, Silow said, the gunman told him "'Hurry up—hurry up, or I'll shoot you if you don't.'"
The register opened, but as the gunman reached for the money, someone shouted, and the gunman fled, along with the others.
Silow said he again called 911, not realizing that Horev already had; he also found the envelopes of money missing, along with a couple boxes of candy.
"I was numb," Silow repeated several times over in the course of his testimony.
Silow said he could not positively identify Schaefer as one of the gunmen. He remembered the men wearing dark colors with dark maskes or clothes on their faces, and could not remember if the two men he saw were wearing gloves.
He also could not initially remember which way the men fled.
"How do you not know?" asked Edward Rideout, Schaefer's public defender.
"Have you ever had a gun put to you?" Silow responded.
Police Officer Testifies
Lower Merion police officer Paul Fontanes was on patrol in plain clothing the night of July 14, he testified Wednesday.
Less than an hour after the robbery was committed, Fontanes saw Schaefer on the lawn of a home at Old Lancaster Road and Regency Circle, talking animatedly, agitatedly on his phone and watching the police activity happening down on Sycamore Avenue, where police were searching the area for evidence from the robbery.
Observing that Schaefer also appeared to be walking behind a tree whenever a car approached, Fontanes radioed another officer, in uniform, to investigate Schaefer.
Schaefer complied with police, Fontanes said, presenting his identification card and telling police that after getting into a fight with his girlfriend, he got out of her car, and he was waiting for a ride from his brother. Nothing was out of the ordinary, Schaefer had no weapons on him, and he was released, Fontanes said.
Other Evidence Found
Lower Merion police detective Walter Kerr said that when police searched the area around Hymie's and the nearby Sycamore Avenue apartments, a number of items were found believed to be connected to the Hymie's robbery, including four pairs of latex gloves, four bandanas or ski masks, a handgun and three cell phones.
A Lincoln towncar, registered to Schaefer, was found in the parking lot of Sycamore Court apartments, close to where the gloves and other items were found, Kerr said.
In the back of Schaefer's unlocked car, police found a sawed off shotgun, a bullet matching the kind used in the handgun recovered, and latex gloves identical to one of the other pairs found by police, Kerr said.
Surveillance tape recovered from Hymie's showed four robbers, all with their faces covered. Two wielded handguns, and one wielded a sawed off shotgun matching the unusual one found in the back of Schaefer's car, according to Kerr.
Schaefer was arrested on July 24. When being transported from his home in Philadelphia to Montgomery County Correctional Facility, Schaefer allegedly told Kerr that his car was in Merion because his GPS had gone off course, and so he pulled over. Two men, Schaefer allegedly told police, jumped into the back of his car, then got out and fled in an SUV.
Defense Attorney: Evidence Is "Purely Circumstantial"
Schaefer's public defender, Edward Rideout, held that the evidence was purely circumstantial and asked that all the charges be dismissed.
"Nothing puts my client in Hymie's, nothing connects him to the perpetrators," Rideout said. "... Why would [a robber] comply with police, stand 100 yards away from the place he just robbed? It doesn't make sense."
Rideout called it a "weak case" and a "loose set of facts."
"The trail of discarded evidence ... leads to his car," McGoldrick said. "At minimum, he was the getaway driver, the lookout."
Even if it could not be proven that Schaefer was the man who threatened Silow at the cash register, McGoldrick said, a case could still be made for accomplice liability. Prosecutors, however, believe they can prove Schaefer's guilt.
"Is it a circumstantial case? Largely," McGoldrick said. "But boy, what a circumstantial case."
After deliberation, Zucker did not dismiss any charges, stating that at a preliminary hearing, the prosecution need only prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant was involved in the crime, and that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had met that burden.
"They have a long way to go," said Rideout, of the prosecution's attempt to prove Schaefer guilty. In the meantime, Schaefer maintains his innocence.
Schaefer's bail remains at $500,000. He is being held at Montgomery County Prison, and will have his formal arraignment in the Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 26 at 9:30 a.m.