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Pittston Man Speaks Out After Being Acquitted Of Murder

October 6, 2018
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Pittston Man Speaks Out After Being Acquitted Of Murder

WILKES-BARRE — Having spent 453 days in jail after he fatally shot a man outside a Pittston bar last year, Stephen Jamal Spencer walked out of the Luzerne County Correctional Facility a free man and into the arms of his family Friday evening.

About 90 minutes earlier, a jury had found Spencer not guilty of murder in the racially charged slaying.

“I was fighting for my life for 15 months and I finally made it,” Spencer said. “Justice was served.”

Spencer, 31, of Pittston, fatally shot Christopher Williams, 32, outside Saints and Sinners Irish Pub on Center Street in July 2017. The defense maintained it was self-defense, but prosecutors alleged it was murder.

“It was unjust for the situation I was in,” Spencer said minutes after his release. “Luzerne County detectives, Pittston police — no one ever did an investigation. They looked at me, I was a black man, and they just thought I was just another black man that committed a murder without any justification or any purpose.”

After a few hours of deliberations Friday afternoon, jurors found Spencer not guilty of murder or manslaughter, clearing him of any criminal wrongdoing.

Judge Richard M. Hughes III granted Spencer’s immediate release after processing at the correctional facility.

“I’m grateful for everyone who believed my son,” said Spencer’s mother, Stephanie Evans, of East Orange, N.J.

Evans said the jury’s verdict was “a blessing.”

“Eighteen months, I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t hug him, and I’m glad they see that my son didn’t do anything wrong. He did everything right. He tried to leave, they wouldn’t let him leave. It was horrible for him,” Evans said.

During closing arguments, Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Tom Hogans said Spencer had the opportunity — and duty — to retreat from a crowd outside the bar rather than pull his gun.

“Shooting an unarmed man on a street when you can retreat is not self defense,” Hogans said. “He intentionally shot him in a vital part of his body.”

Hogans said Spencer also had time to warn Williams he was armed.

Defense attorney John Pike argued Spencer, who is black, was defending himself after enduring a night of racial taunting by drunken bar-goers who were white. They followed him outside the bar, Pike said.

“What’s going to trigger a racist? A black man in their white bar. Fueled by alcohol,” Pike said.

Pike said members of the group were moving aggressively toward Spencer prior to the shooting and shouted “we’re going to get you (racial slur).”

“In his mind, he was terrified and did what he had to do in those few seconds,” Pike said.

He noted Spencer has no criminal history and possessed a valid concealed carry permit for the gun. Pike also pointed out Spencer fired only one shot and stopped when the threat stopped.

Spencer was also acquitted of charges of simple assault and terroristic threats for allegedly pointing a gun at a woman after shooting Williams.

Witnesses said racial tensions were escalating all night at the bar after Williams’ cousin refused to shake Spencer’s hand because he is black.

Spencer arrived at the bar with Williams’ friend, Henry Gift, a white man who is Spencer’s neighbor. As Spencer and Gift were leaving, Gift said he was attacked from behind by two people he didn’t see. Spencer was a little bit in front of him, he said.

The attack — which Gift said he believed was motivated by the fact that he “was with a black guy at a bar” — left him with a black eye and was only interrupted when Gift heard the gunshot Spencer fired from up ahead on the sidewalk, he said.

Pike said he was thankful to the jury, noting Spencer was never in trouble before.

“You don’t go from that to homicide,” Pike said.

Pike said prior to his arrest, Spencer made more than $100,000 a year as owner-operator of a Bimbo Bakeries delivery truck franchise.

“He was self-made,” Pike said.

Spencer’s older brother Amore, with whom he resided in Pittston before the shooting, said his brother “lost everything” between the time of his arrest and Friday’s verdict — “his business, his trucks, cars, motorcycles — everything.”

Hogans said Friday that prosecutors respected the jury’s verdict but disagreed with the outcome.

“We respect the jury’s verdict and realize they had a very tough decision to make in this case,” Hogans said. “Obviously, we felt we had enough evidence to convict Stephen Spencer under the circumstances. Although we may disagree with the outcome, the justice system worked and we know the jury carefully considered all of the evidence presented by the Commonwealth and the defense in reaching a verdict.”

Spencer said he had no words to describe how he was feeling after reuniting with his mother, brother, grandmother and two family friends outside the jail.

Asked if there was anything he’d like to say to Williams’ family, Spencer said, “I do apologize for him to be deceased, but I don’t apologize for the actions I took. But sometimes things like this do happen when people are bullies and people are raised in a culture of racism.”

Spencer said racism is a “terrible” problem in Luzerne County.

“I think it’s bigger than we all think,” he said.

As for his future plans, the father of 6- and 10-year-old sons wasn’t looking too far ahead.

“My plan is just to go home, kiss my kids, tell them that there (are) ways to get out of jail, even when there’s an unjust society out there,” Spencer said. “And there’s hope.”

Contact the writers:

bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2055, @cvbobkal

smocarsky@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV

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