Theodore “Reggie” Spencer pushed his way into a Northeast Washington basement apartment with the help of two friends. He also came armed, prosecutors say, with a knife, rope and duct tape — and, he admits, a head full of memories and family stories about the abuse of his mother at the hand of her longtime live-in boyfriend.
As Sharon Spencer lay in a hospital bed suffering from bladder cancer, authorities said, her son and his friends stormed into the home of Glenn Scarborough and beat, tied and fatally stabbed the man as he lay on the floor.
That was June 19, 2011. Spencer, 22, is now on trial in the Scarborough killing. Wearing a bright red vest, red tie and black shirt and pants, Spencer testified about his life, his mother and the night of Scarborough’s death over about six hours Thursday in the courtroom of D.C. Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Motley.
His testimony is expected to continue Monday. Neither Spencer nor his attorney, James Rudasill, denies that Spencer killed Scarborough, 61. Rudasill said his client “snapped” when he arrived at Scarborough’s home.
Spencer told the jury he went into a rage, his mind recalling a decade of visits from his mother, her eyes black and swollen, her arms bruised and her chest and legs burned in a fire. He also related stories of how Scarborough hooked Sharon Spencer, 43, on crack cocaine, and how he raped her during her six-month battle with cancer, leaving her with a sexually transmitted disease that aggravated her illness.
Many of those recollections were challenged in the courtroom last week, with authorities probing Reggie Spencer’s impressions of his mother’s life and relationship with Scarborough and himself. And prosecutors’ version of the situation differs from his on a major point: They say Spencer went to the apartment determined to kill Scarborough and punish the man for his role in his mother’s rough life.
“Mr. Spencer had a hate and a disgust for Glenn Scarborough and blamed Glenn for the lifestyle his mother was living,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Bradford during her opening statements last week, her voice quivering at times. “They beat, duct-taped him and gagged him, leaving Mr. Scarborough in a pool of his blood.”
Spencer is charged with more than a dozen offenses, including first-degree murder while armed. Phillip Swan, 21, and Terrell Wilson, 20, Spencer’s friends from Virginia, helped bind and gag Scarborough, according to prosecutors, and have been charged with first-degree murder, burglary and other offenses.
Swan’s and Wilson’s attorneys also say that their clients did not plan to kill Scarborough, but instead only wanted to help their friend protect his mother from an abusive boyfriend.
When Reggie Spencer was 6, he moved with his three younger sisters from his mother’s District home to her parents’ in Orange County, Va., about 90 minutes south. He grew up calling his grandparents “Mom and Dad,” according to testimony, and he frequently referred to his mother as “Sharon” on Thursday.
Spencer described a strained relationship with his mother in a videotaped interview with a detective prosecutors played for the jury last week.
“I can’t say I was close,” Spencer said. “She’d call and I would talk to her. I always blamed her for not being a good mom. I faulted her a lot for not being there as a mother. But then I saw she tried. I shunned her and I felt bad.”
Spencer told the jury he met Scarborough when he was 11 and his mother brought her new boyfriend to Virginia. Over the years, according to testimony and court records, a portrait of a tumultuous relationship punctuated by public arguments and a 2000 stay-away order against Scarborough — which Sharon Spencer ultimately let slide, returning to the man — took shape.
For years, he recalled, his mother would visit, bearing injuries she would never explain. His family thought they were inflicted by Scarborough. When he was 13, Spencer testified, he tried to break up an argument between his mother and Scarborough.
“He was yelling and cursing at her,” Spencer said. When he stepped in, he said, Scarborough yelled at him. His mother, he said, didn’t intervene.
“I was angry and confused,” he told the jury. “She never took up for me.”
Later that year, Sharon Spencer was seriously injured in a fire. Scarborough initially was charged with setting the fire, and Spencer testified that her boyfriend had doused her with lighter fluid and threw a match at her.
After six months in a hospital, Sharon Spencer moved in with her family in Virginia and her son became her primary caretaker. He cleaned her wounds, bathed her and rubbed her with healing salve.
“It was very hard,” Reggie Spencer testified. “Her skin looked like snakeskin.”
Prosecutors later dropped the charges against Scarborough. During questioning last week, prosecutors asked Spencer if he knew that his mother told authorities that she and Scarborough were fighting over a crack pipe at the time of the fire, that she dropped a lit cigarette in her lap and that Scarborough was also injured in the fire.
“I didn’t know that,” Spencer said.
Court records show that Sharon Spencer had been arrested several times for solicitation, and prosecutors asked Spencer if he knew his mother worked as a prostitute. Spencer said he learned that information about a year before she died.
“All the bruises and black eyes you saw on your mother all those years — did you ever think maybe she got those bruises on the streets?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Vinet Bryant.
“She never told us how she got them,” Spencer said.
A day before Scarborough was killed, Spencer testified, his grandmother called him to his mother’s bedside at Georgetown University Hospital. He said he overheard his grandmother and “a man dressed in hospital scrubs” discussing a sexually transmitted disease Spencer’s mother contracted after she was raped.
Spencer said he blamed Scarborough. “He was the only one with her,” he said. But the woman had a urinary tract infection, not a sexually transmitted disease, according to prosecutors. She died five days later.
With his mother in the hospital, Spencer said, his grandmother told him to pick up his mother’s clothes from Scarborough’s apartment. He was expected, he thought, and the items would be ready for him when he arrived.
When Spencer arrived, he testified, there was nothing to pick up and Scarborough did not know what he was talking about. They argued, and Spencer, a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound mixed martial arts competitor, put the slightly taller Scarborough in a headlock.
“I kept flashing in between thinking back of all the things he did to my mother and said to me at my grandmother’s,” Spencer testified. “I finally felt I had an up on him.”
Spencer showed the jury how he put Scarborough in a headlock for nearly two minutes, estimating that the older man was passed out for more than 90 seconds of that time. He took out his pocketknife and stabbed Scarborough three times, he said, then wrapped Scarborough’s own belt around his neck. Prosecutors said the buckle left a mark on Scarborough’s throat.
Spencer told the jury he was in a “rage.”
“I was just so upset,” he said. “He [beat] my mom again. I figured if he can [beat] on people, I can [beat] on him, too,” Spencer said.
Leaning forward, Spencer demonstrated how he then applied a rear naked chokehold and squeezed. Spencer thought Scarborough was dead, he testified, so he and his friends began tying the man with duct tape and rope. Prosecutors say Spencer brought the tape and rope with him that day; he says he found it at the apartment.
Bryant asked Spencer why he bothered to tie up someone he thought was dead.
“I thought he was dead,” he replied. “But I didn’t know.”