USC Halloween shooting victim Geno Hall (photo courtesy of Hall’s family)
Family says USC pressured prosecutors to satisfy university donors
A 21-year-old man was convicted February 11, of four counts of attempted murder for a shooting that wounded four people outside a Halloween party on the USC campus, prompting the defendant to flip over a chair in anger and beg deputies to shoot him. The nine-woman, three-man panel took less than three hours to reach its verdict against Brandon Spencer. Prosecutors told jurors that the October 2012 shooting was the result of a longstanding feud between Spencer and a rival gang member.
The defense maintained it was a case of mistaken identity, with Spencer’s father contending his son was prosecuted in a rush to judgment to satisfy the University of Southern California and its donors. After Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edmund Clarke Jr. thanked the jurors for their service and they filed out of the courtroom, Spencer reacted in anger and frustration, yelling expletives about a life in prison.
Then he yelled, “Shoot me, I don’t give a (expletive),” as three deputies pushed furniture out of way and tried to restrain him.
“I love you dad,” he hollered, before again asking the armed deputies to kill him. He struggled as court officers held him down, calling him by his first name and urging him to “calm down” as they got him handcuffed. He broke loose once more and three deputies pinned him to the ground as family members cried and called out to Spencer.
Clarke cleared the courtroom shortly afterward. Outside in the hallway, Spencer’s father leveled charges of racism, telling reporters that his son was not a gang member and that prosecutors were driven by pressure from USC.
“(They) want to keep all these black men off the USC campus,” James Spencer charged. “This is just to satisfy USC.”
The elder Spencer said jurors were not allowed to hear that his son was a licensed security guard, and said his son had enrolled at UCLA to begin studying to be an emergency medical technician. Deputy District Attorney Antonella Nistorescu told jurors during her closing argument that the defendant was a “documented, well-known” gang member who had been shot in the stomach in August 2011 by an unidentified rival gang member. She said Spencer was seeking vengeance when he fired at reputed gang member Geno Hall outside the party at USC. Hall, a former Crenshaw High School football standout, testified that he had just been talking to his girlfriend when he was shot and didn’t know who did it or why.
“Gang members don’t snitch, they don’t talk to the police … even rivals,” Nistorescu told the jury.
Three other witnesses testified that it was Spencer who shot Hall and three others: Mysson Downs, Thomas Richie and Davonte Smith. The prosecution used tweets that had been sent on Spencer’s phone as evidence of his gang links, while defense attorney John Blanchard countered that “the younger generation likes to trash talk.” The prosecutor pointed to the fact that Spencer pulled off his shirt in the wake of the shooting as evidence of his guilt. But Blanchard said his client pulled off his red shirt to avoid sporting gang colors.
“When he heard gunshots, deja vu, nightmare relived, he’s going to run,” Blanchard said.
The shirt was tied to Spencer via DNA, but there were no fingerprints on the gun found by police and DNA evidence was inconclusive. The gunfire broke out near a party sponsored by the Black Student Assembly and attended by about 400 people. Neither Spencer nor any of the four victims were USC students.
Blanchard said he would file an appeal, citing what he said were contradicting statements by the three eyewitnesses. Blanchard told jurors during his closing argument, “When you consider
all the evidence, the huge inconsistencies and holes … it’s called reasonable
doubt, ladies and gentlemen.”
However, Nistorescu countered that the three agreed that Spencer was the shooter, telling jurors they should expect disagreements on smaller details of the shooting. Spencer, who is being held without bail, is due back in court on Feb. 21 for sentencing. He is facing a possible life sentence, as jurors also found true gang and gun allegations.
“He’s destroyed,” his father said.