Pittston homicide trial: Witness says he was jumped; defendant fired to stop attack

By Patrick Kernan - [email protected]
Spencer -

WILKES-BARRE — Witnesses can’t seem to agree on the exact chain of events that led up to the fatal shooting of Christopher Williams by Stephen Spencer.

Spencer, 31, is accused of killing Williams, 32, outside of Saints & Sinners Irish Pub in Pittston in July 2017 after a racially charged altercation at the bar with Williams’ cousin Marty.

Spencer is not disputing the fact he shot Williams, but the Pittston man is trying to get a jury to believe he fired in self-defense.

The altercation reportedly began after Marty refused to shake Spencer’s hand when he was introduced by a mutual friend.

On the second full day of testimony Wednesday, most of the witnesses were people who were in the bar that night. But the most important testimony came from three people: a friend of Williams, the bartender and a friend of Spencer.

Spencer’s friend claimed he was jumped outside the bar, and Spencer stopped the attack by firing his weapon.

The day began with Michael Owens taking the stand. He is an Old Forge resident who was at the bar with Williams and other members of the Williams family, including the victim’s cousin Marty.

According to Owens, at some point in the night, Spencer was standing behind Owens and Alaena Swingle. Owens said Spencer was standing uncomfortably close to them, prompting him to say, “N——-, get to to the other side of the bar.”

But Owens denied saying, “Get the f—- to the other side of the bar,” conflicting with the testimony of previous witnesses.

Owens insists he used the racial slur, but not any profanity.

During cross-examination from Spencer’s attorney Mary Deady, Owens claimed the n-word doesn’t mean much to him. In fact, he said he uses the word to refer to his two half-black children as a joke.

Owens left the bar that night before the shooting, going to another bar to see a band.

‘Just a feeling’

Lauren Pieczynski, who was bartending at Saints & Sinners, said tensions were obviously flaring between the Williamses and Spencer and his friend, Henry Gift, adding it was “just a feeling” she could get from being a bartender for some time.

When she was cross-examined, she told Spencer’s attorney John Pike that she noticed everyone from the Williams group left stuff at the bar as they filed out the door near the same time Spencer and Gift left.

She said the group left articles of clothing, cell phones and purses, seeming to imply they planned on coming back. Her testimony stood in stark contrast to what other witnesses said, including Marty Williams. He claimed they were leaving for the night.

‘Two people jumped me’

The most stirring testimony of the day came from Gift. While acting as a witness for prosecutors, he seemed to defend Spencer, suggesting the defendant shot Williams because Williams was part of a group who attacked them.

Gift described trouble starting earlier, saying what Owens actually said to Spencer was: “N——-s don’t belong here.” Gift added that Owens flicked a lit cigarette at him and Spencer, who was the only black man at the bar that night.

Gift also said he tried to introduce Spencer to Marty, but said Marty just walked away. Marty testified Tuesday that he refused to shake Spencer’s hand since he is black.

According to Gift, he and Spencer briefly left the bar to smoke and “let things calm down,” as he put it. They decided to go back in after Owens had left, as “He was the one really running his mouth.”

While being questioned by prosecutor Thomas Hogans, Gift said after he and Spencer decided to leave, he saw Spencer walk out the door while Gift was paying his tab.

He didn’t finish paying his tab though, because he said he saw a group of people leave at the same time out another door.

Gift followed Spencer out, which is when he says he was suddenly attacked.

“Two people jumped me and started hitting me,” he said.

He described one individual being in front of him and another behind, hitting him in the face. Photos were shown of Gift’s black eye after the incident. He said he couldn’t get a good look at the attackers, but they ran off thanks to Spencer.

“I heard a gunshot, and I was able to throw one of them off me,” Gift said, later explaining the attackers ran behind the back of the bar.

Gift said he heard Spencer telling onlookers to “get back,” contrasting Swingle’s testimony Tuesday that he instead was yelling “let him die.”

On cross-examination, defender Pike asked why he was attacked.

“Because I was with a black guy at the bar,” said Gift.

He believes Spencer saved his life, saying he easily could’ve been killed by the attackers if he had gone down. Gift also denied Marty’s previous testimony that Gift told him he “deserve(d) what’s coming to him” after refusing to shake Spencer’s hand.

After a string of expert witnesses, prosecutors rested their case.

The defense team will start presenting their case Thursday morning.


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