BLOOMSBURG — Maria Sanutti-Spencer gave nearly 50 reasons in her appeal summary filed Thursday in Columbia County Court on why she should be granted a new trial after a jury found the former lawyer and soccer mom guilty in November of killing her ex-husband in July 2012.
Sanutti-Spencer, 51, of Selinsgrove, was convicted of gunning down Frank Spencer, 46, of Millville. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole and is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.
On Thursday, through her attorney, Justin McShane, of the McShane Firm, Harrisburg, Sanutti-Spencer listed 46 reasons why she believes she did not receive a fair trial.
The motion will be heard by Senior Judge Michael Dunlavey, of Erie County, who presided over the trial.
Sanutti-Spencer claims her ex-husband was abusive and Dunlavey did not allow any of that evidence into the trial. Testimony by commonwealth witnesses claimed Spencer was afraid of his ex-wife and that he told several people she was going to kill him. “The court erroneously excluded evidence of the DEA and FBI investigation into Frank Spencer’s drug usage and dealing,” McShane wrote. “This evidence was part and parcel to Ms. Sanutti-Spencer’s defense. It provides alternative theories and actors of the murder.”
Dunlavey did not allow evidence that included a crack pipe found outside Spencer’s home, but that evidence would have given credence to alternative suspects and theories of murder related to drug use and drug dealing, McShane wrote.
“The court did not allow testimony from witnesses and evidence that would have shown Rocco Franklin had the intent and motive to kill Frank Spencer,” McShane wrote, referring to Sanutti-Spencer’s father. “The exclusion of this evidence violated Ms. Sanutti-Spencer’s right to present a complete defense.”
Sanutti-Spencer was also not allowed to present her health issues to a jury, McShane wrote. “This evidence would have shown that Ms. Sanutti-Spencer was physically incapable of committing the murder from a sniper’s nest across the street from Frank Spencer’s home and she was not physically capable of of committing the crimes either in the manner that the government presented in any way.”
Sanutti-Spencer also claims several text messages that were presented to the jury were not shown in entire conversations. “Without context — per the rule of completeness — this statement is highly prejudicial, could lead to a decision on an improper basis and was confusing to the jury,” McShane wrote.
Sanutti-Spencer asked for a change of venue after several media outlets across the state reported on the case. Sanutti-Spencer and Spencer went through a long and bitter divorce, and media outlets had covered various stages of the breakup since 2006. Sanutti-Spencer also received national exposure by appearing on several high-profile crime shows.
“Columbia County is a small county with a population of about 66,000 people,” McShane wrote. “This case was included in all mediums of entertainment, television, radio, Internet and newspaper. The publicity was sensational, inflammatory and slanted toward conviction.”
Her previous attorney, Christian Hoey, whom Sanutti-Spencer fired, presented the court with 49 media exhibits, which included grand jury testimony, McShane said.
During the November trial, Dunlavey often clashed with Hoey when the Philadelphia attorney tried to raise objections.
At one point, Dunlavey misspoke during instructions to the jury — he told the panel to remember the facts of the case that included Maria Sanutti-Spencer killing Frank Spencer on July 1, 2012. Hoey immediately asked for a mistrial, but was denied by Dunlavey.
Hoey at one point during the trial saw commonwealth witnesses Brian Wawroski and Derk Reed talking during a lunch break. Reed testified prior to lunch and Wawroski was scheduled to testify after the break. Hoey asked Dunlavey to throw out Wawroski’s testimony, but the request was denied. McShane claims the conversation allowed Wawroski and Reed to tailor their testimony and that bolstered credibility for both with the jury.
Sanutti-Spencer declined comment Thursday and referred questions to McShane.