Pittston Murder Suspect Testifies He Felt ‘justified’
WILKES-BARRE — Murder suspect Stephen Jamal Spencer took the stand in his own defense Thursday morning and alleged he killed a man outside a Pittston bar only after a group of people advanced on him aggressively, hurling racial slurs.
“I felt threatened. I felt like my life was on the line,” said Spencer, 31. “I felt and I still feel like I was justified in that shooting. I was in fear for my life.”
The shooting that killed 32-year-old Christopher Williams took place at Saints & Sinners Irish Pub early the morning of July 9, 2017.
The dispute that led to the deadly confrontation began when Williams’ cousin Marty Williams spotted his friend Henry Gift, 31, of Pittston, who was at the bar with Spencer, Gift’s neighbor. Gift went to introduce his friends to each other, but Marty Williams, 34, of Pittston, refused to shake Spencer’s hand — he explained from the stand that he doesn’t “race mix.”
“I was like, ‘Well this guy’s weird,’” Spencer testified.
Spencer said he let it go and continued drinking with Gift. But things heated up when he went to the other side of the bar to shoot pool, he said.
“I stood there for maybe four or five seconds before everybody started yelling,” Spencer said. “The one quote I did hear was, ‘(racial slur) what you doing on this side of the bar?’ I stopped. I froze. I was confused. I’d never experienced something like that.”
Gift pulled Spencer out of the room and they went outside to smoke, he said. But they decided to return after seeing Michael Owens, 42, of Old Forge, leave the bar.
Owens, who admitted under oath that he used a racial slur when ordering Spencer away, appeared to have been the “main instigator,” Spencer said.
But back inside the bar, Gift went to the other side of the bar once more and an argument started, he said. When Spencer went to get Gift, the group began cursing again, he said.
“They started saying, ‘(racial slur) what you doing on this side of the bar?’ again,” Spencer said, adding that he then grabbed Gift and headed for the door. “The energy that was there, you knew they were going to attack us.”
Spencer and Gift exited the Searle Street door, and Gift testified he was attacked from behind as soon as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Spencer, who was in front, said that he saw a group of about five people run around the corner down the street, coming from the Center Street door of the bar.
“Once they hit this corner they started walking in an aggressive manner,” said Spencer, who had a license to concealed carry the weapon he possessed. “I heard a few people saying, ‘We’re going to get you (racial slur).’ At that moment I’m hearing punches. It sounded like an echo. I told them to stop. I reached for my gun and I shot one time.”
Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans, Spencer appeared calm as he stuck by his account. Asked why he didn’t just jump into his nearby car, Spencer maintained that he didn’t have time to reach the driver’s side door and that he was protecting Gift as well as himself.
He also said he never intended for Christopher Williams to die.
“There was no intention to kill,” Spencer said. “The intention was to stop.”
The testimony came after two of Spencer’s former co-workers from Pride Mobility testified that he is an honest and law-abiding person. The only other defense witness of the day, Emanuel Kapelsohn of the Allentown-based weapons consulting firm Peregrine Corp., spent well over an hour on the stand being questioned about his qualifications to determine whether he can testify as an expert witness.
Luzerne County President Judge Richard M. Hughes III ruled Kapelsohn can testify about ballistics and crime scene reconstruction, but not about the use of force.
Kapelsohn will resume his testimony this morning.
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