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Judge charged with attempted murder after shooting boyfriend in the head

Suspended Harrisburg Magisterial District Judge Sonya McKnight Feb. 15, 2023. Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com

Christine Vendel, Jonathan Bergmueller

A 54-year-old man woke up in “excruciating pain” and “complete blindness” after he was shot in the head in his bed, six days after breaking up with Sonya McKnight, he wrote in a petition for a protection-from-abuse order filed Thursday.

He asked McKnight, his former girlfriend if he was bleeding. She said “yes,” he wrote in the petition.

Police arrested McKnight — a magisterial district judge who was suspended from her job in November — on Thursday afternoon and accused her of shooting her sleeping former boyfriend, according to a statement by Cumberland County’s District Attorney Office.

The victim wrote in his request for a PFA that he broke up with her on Feb. 4, then asked her each day to move out of his home until early Saturday, when he was shot.

The bullet entered the right side of the victim’s face, traversed through his head in a straight line behind and slightly below his eyes and exited the left side of his face, prosecutors said. The victim remains blind in one eye, according to the DA’s statement.

Police charged McKnight, 57, with attempted murder and aggravated assault, according to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office. Both of those charges are first-degree felonies. She was processed at the Dauphin County Central Booking Center and listed as an inmate in the Dauphin County Prison.

At her arraignment Thursday evening, President Judge Scott Evans set her bond at $300,000. Unless she posts bail, she will remain in Dauphin County Prison until her preliminary hearing before Evans on February 26, 2024.

Defendants typically are incarcerated and prosecuted in the county where a crime occurs. But McKnight’s arrest was followed by a series of recusals because she sat the bench alongside the other district judges and ruled on cases presented by prosecutors.

The Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office initially asked the Attorney General’s Office to take over the investigation. However, the Attorney General’s Office declined because McKnight is currently suing one of its investigators in federal court.

Under Pa. law, that gave the decision back to Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo to choose a prosecutor from an adjoining county. He then handed the case over to Cumberland County District Attorney Sean McCormack.

McKnight was suspended in November by the state’s Judicial Conduct board that cited seven violations by her as a magisterial district judge. It was her second time within three years of being suspended without pay.

In the first shooting, McKnight shot her estranged husband, Enoch McKnight, in the groin at her house after inviting him over on May 10, 2019 to help move furniture, his relatives previously told PennLive.

Enoch McKnight’s sister, Olga Foxworth, of North Carolina, said Enoch told her that he had successfully moved one chair to a neighbor’s house, then was carrying another chair when he was shot in the hand and groin and accused of being a “cheater.”

A neighbor apparently called 911, according to dispatch records. Enoch later showed up at a hospital. Attorney general investigators didn’t file any charges in that shooting, citing self-defense.

Sonya McKnight was re-elected in 2021 to a second term. Each term lasts six years. She will remain on unpaid suspension for the duration of her criminal case, but it’s unclear whether the court can take any other action regarding her vacant seat during the final years of her term.

Under Pa. law, the only way to remove an elected official is impeachment.

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