Facebook Post Draws Scrutiny At Murder Trial
WILKES-BARRE — Shortly before a racially charged homicide outside Saints & Sinners Irish Pub in Pittston, the cousin of the shooting victim posted a message to Facebook.
“I love it when one (racial slur) come strolling thorough (sic) saints and the boys says kick rocks or … should i say more,” wrote Marty Williams, 34, of Pittston.
The post was revealed Tuesday during the first day of the murder trial against Stephen Jamal Spencer, 31. Spencer shot and killed 32-year-old Christopher Williams early the morning of July 9, 2017 — shortly after Marty Williams refused to shake Spencer’s hand because he is black.
Jurors must now decide whether Spencer’s actions amounted to premeditated murder or self defense.
During cross-examination by defense attorney John Pike, Marty Williams claimed the post was not referencing Spencer — the only black person at the bar that night — but was instead referring to another white person with whom a friend had a beef.
But Pike presented jurors with a wealth of information about Marty Williams’ racist beliefs, ranging from a Facebook post he was tagged in saying “I (heart) Being White” to Marty Williams’ own admission from the stand that he doesn’t “race mix” with blacks, Hispanics or Asians.
“I’m not entitled to shake nobody’s hand,” Marty Williams said.
“Who are your people?” Pike asked.
“White people,” Marty Williams said.
During her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Brittany Quinn urged jurors to not lose sight of the fact that the trial is about Spencer killing Christopher Williams, who had “nothing to do with” the dispute over the handshake.
“That’s murder, no matter what you might think of Marty Williams for his actions,” Quinn said.
On a day featuring racially charged testimony, the parties saw the makeup of the mostly white jury change. A white juror who recognized Marty Williams once he took the stand was excused from service, allowing a black woman serving as an alternate to join the deciding panel.
The jurors who will decide Spencer’s fate now consist of 10 white and two black people.
Testifying for the prosecution, Marty Williams described an ambush-style attack that unfolded as he and his cousin walked home at the end of the night. The pair left one entrance and were walking along a sidewalk on Searle Street when Spencer leapt off the stoop of another barroom door, landing behind a parked SUV, he said.
Spencer then emerged and, without a word, fired a single shot that hit Christopher Williams in the chest, mortally wounding him, Marty Williams said.
Jurors heard conflicting testimony about what exactly happened next. Marty Williams’ girlfriend at the time, Alaena Swingle, 35, of Duryea, testified that Spencer then held her group at bay with his pistol, ordering them to “let him die.”
Defense attorney Mary Deady noted that Tuesday was the first time anyone had heard about such a statement — in a written statement to police and during testimony at a preliminary hearing, Swingle said Spencer had threatened to shoot if they didn’t get back.
Swingle maintained her memory had been fuzzy because of the shock of what had happened, but that she now accurately recalls what took place.
“There’s times that you remember something that you didn’t remember 10 days ago,” she said.
Marty Williams testified that after the shooting, Spencer was “just pointing the gun, like not a care in the world.” His sister, Leslie Williams, 36, of Pittston, also said she did not recall Spencer saying anything prior to police arrival.
When officers did get on the scene, Spencer was holding the weapon in a non-threatening manner and handed it to police, Pittston City Police Officer Charles Swisher said.
“Here’s the gun. I shot him,” Swisher quoted Spencer as saying.
Several prosecution witnesses testified that while a mutual friend of Spencer and Marty Williams had been upset by Spencer being slighted over the handshake refusal, Spencer himself did not appear aggressive or hostile in the bar.
Pike suggested that Marty Williams was the one who got upset after a day spent drinking and finding a black man looking at white women in a bar he was known to frequent. Marty Williams denied the suggestion, but Pike pressed him on what he meant with the Facebook post that used a pejorative term for a black person.
“What did you mean by this?” Pike asked. “What were you going to do?”
“Nothing,” Marty Williams maintained.
Testimony continues today.
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