Murder Or Self-Defense? Questions Surround Man’s Shooting Death During Trip To Remote Cabin
Peter Bernardo Spencer’s family says his death was a “modern-day lynching,” but prosecutors have declined to bring charges against the shooter.
A late fall camping trip to a remote Pennsylvania cabin turned deadly when a Jamaican immigrant was shot to death in what witnesses said was a case of self-defense. Now, prosecutors and the man’s family are at odds over whether or not foul play was involved.
On December 11, 2021, a man who police have not publicly identified invited his former co-worker Peter Bernardo Spencer and three others to spend time at a cabin in Venango County.
Photos snapped that day and recovered from Spencer’s phone showed the group appeared to be having a great time as they visited a waterfall and went off-roading, prosecutors said.
Hours later, Spencer was dead.
Autopsy results later showed Spencer had alcohol, marijuana, and psilocin from psychedelic mushrooms in his system after he drank, smoked, and took drugs, as several of the witnesses allegedly also did, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
According to the witnesses, Spencer, 29, began to act more and more erratic as the evening wore on. He allegedly proclaimed he was “a god” and “creator, master, and manipulator of his own reality,” refused to let anyone leave the site, and shot his illegally obtained AK-47 assault rifle multiple times, investigators said.
The night ended in tragedy outside the cabin when Spencer, who reportedly never took mushrooms before, allegedly aimed the weapon at the man who invited him, witnesses told police.
Spencer demanded multiple times to know where one of the other guests went and pushed him, the man told investigators. The man responded by fatally shooting Spencer nine times with a 9mm pistol in an act he claimed was self-defense.
Prosecutors and investigators later agreed.
The Pennsylvania State Police Heritage Affairs Team investigates hate crimes and looked at the shooting but declined to bring charges. According to ABC News, the section’s liaison, Corp. Aaron Allen, said an investigation showed “there's not been any sort of hate and/or bias detected” in the case.
“[The shooter] did not have to wait for a gunshot to fire at him,” Venango County District Attorney Shawn White said at a March 15 press conference, citing Pennsylvania’s “stand your ground” law. “He did not have to wait for a verbal threat.”
White announced: “We believe in this case that there is enough evidence presented for self-defense that we are not going to be able to overcome our burden and show this was not self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, and for that reason, there will be no charges filed against the suspect in this case.”
Spencer’s loved ones disagreed with the decision and likened the incident to a “modern day lynching,” questioning the district attorney’s decision not to prosecute the shooting as a murder, the Inquirer reported.
“This is the type of behavior we have seen from the PA State Police and Venango County District Attorney from the outset,” Paul Jubas, an attorney working with the family, said in a statement to the publication.
Jubas later called witnesses unreliable and autopsy results troubling.
The attorney pointed out the shooter’s story had discrepancies, including that the man claimed he took mushrooms before the shooting, but toxicology tests showed psilocybin wasn’t present in his system.
Jubas also noted that White said during questioning the witnesses didn’t appear to be under the influence of anything. The witnesses, according to the district attorney, were all “alert times three.”
Autopsy results showed that of the nine bullets fired at Spencer, two bullets entered his back, two his buttocks, and one his face.
While D.A. White said Spencer “was not running away” despite the locations of the wounds, Dr. Cyril Wecht, an independent pathologist Jubas hired on behalf of the family, had his doubts.
“Where is this fear on the part of the shooter that he is being threatened?” Dr. Wecht asked at a March 28 news conference, People reported. “Five shots at Mr. Spencer while he is moving away from the shooter, and the shooter is continuing to shoot.”
While the state won’t move forward with the case, a federal investigation into the incident is ongoing, and Jubas said Spencer’s family is “completely confident” about what those investigators may find. “We do expect and believe that an indictment will be forthcoming on the suspect from that investigation,” he said.