WILKES-BARRE — A jury has been seated in a homicide trial involving a case that the defense claims stemmed from a racial dispute between the black defendant and the white victim.
Only one member of the jury is black.
Stephen Jamal Spencer, 31, stands accused in the July 2017 shooting death of 32-year-old Christopher Williams outside Saints & Sinners Irish Pub. His trial began on Monday with a lengthy jury selection process that took up the entire work day.
Prosecutors and the defense team took turns asking potential jurors a variety of questions to determine if they would be good fits for the jury.
The bulk of questions asked by defense attorney John Pike hinged on determining if jurors had a racial bias. While none of the potential jurors said that they had any feelings about race that would bias them against Spencer, a few indicated that they believed Spencer must be guilty of something, or else he wouldn’t be on trial.
Pike has indicated in the past that Spencer will be using an argument of self-defense, claiming he shot Williams after an altercation.
Previous testimony suggests the altercation had racial overtones, with a member of Williams’ family refusing to shake Spencer’s hand, later claiming he does not “socialize with anybody not my race.” Spencer had a legal permit to carry the firearm.
Pike asked potential jurors if they believed someone must fire off a warning shot before acting in self-defense, and an overwhelming number of jurors answered “yes.”
Eventually, counsel settled on a jury, made up of seven women and five men. Two alternate jurors were also selected, one man and one woman. One of the alternate jurors also is black.
Opening arguments will begin Tuesday morning before Luzerne County President Judge Richard M. Hughes III.
Spencer is being held in the county jail without bail.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan