LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — A Lancaster County man pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, robbery and other charges in the shooting death of a 68-year-old man in West Earl Township in August 2020, according to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.
Stephen Jones, 28, is set to serve 35 to 80 years in prison as the judge accepted his guilty plea and ordered the sentence.
The DA’s Office says the incident started early in the morning on August 9, 2020, when Jones forced the victim to stop his vehicle on Cats Back Road just south of Ephrata.
Jones proceeded to shoot the victim through the driver’s open side window. The office says that gun was illegally owned due to prior convictions in New York. The two men did not know each other.
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Before the shooting, Jones was at the Sheetz on Route 322, where he went into the store with the gun and asked for a gas pump to be turned on. He left the store, put the fuel nozzle into his truck’s tank, and drove off with it, breaking the hose off the pump. He was charged with robbery, and the office also says the truck was stolen from Greencastle, Pa.
Police found Jones through a tip after distributing a picture of him to the media. Police found the gun in a field near the shooting tracked back to the suspect, as well as DNA from the stolen truck. A witness also told police they heard gunshots and saw the truck drive away.
The state noted a voluntary intoxication defense, reducing a first-degree sentence to third-degree, was a strong factor in the plea bargain.
When asked by a judge if he had any remorse, Jones apologized for his actions and that it crosses his mind every day. He also mentioned in court he doesn’t remember it.
“Hearing how this will forever affect this family is devastating,” Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Ponessa said. “The hope is that the defendant will spend the majority of his life in prison.”