Pittston shooting trial to start Tuesday

By Patrick Kernan - [email protected]
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WILKES-BARRE — Stephen Jamal Spencer sat calmly in a Luzerne County court room on Monday, waiting for his trial in connection with the shooting death of Christopher Williams.

Nearly three hours after jury selection was set to begin, Spencer learned he would have to wait one more day.

The postponement comes after attorneys argued over the validity of a proposed expert witness to be used by the defense team.

The defense plans on using an expert witness who would offer his opinion that Spencer, 31, used reasonable force when he allegedly shot and killed Williams, 32, outside Saints & Sinners Irish Pub in Pittston on July 9, 2017.

On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans argued that the determination was an inappropriate one, saying it amounted to doing the jury’s work for them on determining innocence or guilt.

Defense attorney Jonathan Pike disagreed, saying the expert would not be offering opinions about guilt or innocence, instead saying he would only offer an opinion on the use of force.

Pike also added that the expert has been used numerous times around the country in other cases — including offering his opinion on use of force as an expert for prosecutors in other cases in Pennsylvania.

Luzerne County President Judge Richard M. Hughes III, who is presiding over the case, said he would make a determination about whether the witness’ testimony would be allowed later on Monday. Until then, he postponed jury selection until Tuesday morning.

According to prosecutors, Spencer shot and killed Williams after an altercation at the Pittston bar stemming from Williams allegedly refusing to shake Spencer’s hand. Testimony at Spencer’s preliminary hearing last year suggested a racial element to the incident — Spencer is a black man, while Williams was a white man.

Witnesses testified to hearing a racial slur being used, and Williams’ cousin who was at the bar at the time of the incident testified that he does not “socialize with anybody not my race.”

Spencer and Williams, along with their respective friend groups, left the bar separately, and the altercation escalated, allegedly leading to Spencer firing a single shot into Williams’ chest.

Pike maintains that his client acted in self-defense, saying he was cooperative with officers after the incident, adding that Spencer had a permit to carry the firearm. Prosecutors previously said there is no evidence of self-defense.

Spencer, of Pittston, remains jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.

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By Patrick Kernan

[email protected]

Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan

Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan