Racial Tension Prominent At Start Of Murder Trial

October 2, 2018

Racial Tension Prominent At Start Of Murder Trial

WILKES-BARRE — Attorneys stood before a jury Tuesday morning and agreed that Stephen Jamal Spencer shot and killed Christopher Williams following a barroom dispute over race.

Now the jury will be asked to decide whether it was murder or self-defense.

Spencer, 31, of Pittston, killed Williams, 32, also of the city, after exiting the Saints & Sinners Irish Pub on Center Street, Pittston, early the morning of July 9, 2017 — shortly after Williams’ cousin Marty Williams refused to shake Spencer’s hand because he is black.

“That may and should offend some of you,” Assistant District Attorney Brittany Quinn told the jury during opening statements. 

But she urged the mostly white jury to not lose sight of the fact that the trial is about Spencer killing Christopher Williams, who had “nothing to do with” the earlier dispute over the handshake.

“That’s murder, no matter what you might think of Marty Williams for his actions,” Quinn said.

But defense attorney John Pike urged jurors to question why Spencer would have shot Christopher Williams. He portrayed Spencer as a hard-working family man who owned a house and ran his own business. Spencer was also licensed to carry the gun used in the shooting, he said.

While prosecutors were seeking to show Spencer as a cold-blooded killer, they failed to offer any explanation for why he would have killed Christopher Williams, he said.

“What they didn’t tell you is why? What’s the motivation?” Pike said. “Why would he come out of nowhere and kill someone?”

Prosecutors contend that Spencer ambushed Christopher Williams as he left the bar with his cousin and a friend. When police arrived they found Spencer holding a .45-caliber pistol, saying, “Here’s the gun. I shot him.”

But Pike has previously suggested a group of people using racial epithets confronted Spencer outside the bar and prevented him from reaching his vehicle. He described Spencer, who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, as facing a “classic self-defense” situation.

The trial is expected to last a week.

Update hourly