SELINSGROVE — On Monday, a little more than two years after Frank Spencer was executed outside his Columbia County home, his former wife and her father were charged in his murder and the attempted homicide of Spencer’s girlfriend.
Maria Sanutti-Spencer, 49, of Harrisburg, and her father, Anthony Rocco Franklin, 72, who remains at large, were hit with multiple felony counts ranging from homicide for Spencer’s killing in July 2012, as well as arson, burglary and terroristic threats leading up to his death.
According to the criminal complaint, Sanutti-Spencer solicited her father to murder her ex-husband. Spencer, 46, was shot dead just days after their divorce following 15 years of marriage was finalized.
Sanutti-Spencer was arrested Monday morning at a relative’s home on Picnic Lane in Selinsgrove and arraigned on 32 charges by District Judge John Reed, of Selinsgrove, before being taken before a Columbia County district judge where the lengthy court proceeding was repeated.
The whereabouts of Franklin, described in the grand jury presentment as a career criminal who has claimed to be a hit man for the mob, are unknown. State officials say he is a fugitive on state parole.
Charges were filed after a grand jury heard from 14 witnesses and determined that between 2009 and 2012, Sanutti-Spencer and Franklin “engaged in a pattern of behavior that elicited fear and intimidation in Spencer.”
Several witnesses testified that Sanutti-Spencer openly talked about killing Spencer, earning her the nickname “Black Widow” from co-workers at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission where she was employed around 2001.
Sanutti-Spencer and Franklin also are accused of attempting to kill Spencer’s girlfriend, Julie Dent, on Aug. 25, 2010, by setting fire to her home at 25 Old Valley School Road in Valley Township, Montour County, while she slept. Dent awoke and was able to escape the burning home.
Eight months before Dent’s house was burned down, the 1394 Millville Road home in Columbia County Spencer shared with his mother, Madeline Spencer, was set ablaze right before he and Dent were scheduled to leave on a vacation together.
The grand jury heard from witnesses who reported that Sanutti-Spencer allegedly bragged about being responsible for the fires and openly talked about killing Spencer, even sending him numerous threatening text messages.
Between January 2010 and June 2012, 24 complaints were lodged by either Spencer or Sanutti-Spencer with the Hemlock Township Police Department. Though 13 of the reports were considered “serious,” the grand jury presentment said, “as events were becoming more serious, the response by law enforcement decreased.”
Sanutti-Spencer was never charged with terroristic threats or even questioned about Spencer’s claim prior to his murder.
She was, however, cited for violating a protection from abuse order, criminal mischief and child endangerment, all of which were resolved with a fine or dismissed. Less than three months after prosecuting her in November 2008 and securing a guilty plea for disorderly conduct and harassment, then-Columbia County First Assistant District Attorney Thomas Leipold took over as Sanutti-Spencer’s divorce attorney. He represented her in the divorce for three years, until he took over as district attorney in January 2012.
By then, Spencer was becoming desperate. He began telling family and friends of his fears that he would be murdered and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
One female friend testified to the grand jury that the last time she saw Spencer was June 30, 2012, and he told her, “Blondie, I believe I’m as good as gone. She’s got something brewing. So this may be the last time I see you.”
On June 6, 2012, less than a month before his slaying, Spencer made a final complaint to the township police. According to the grand jury, he reported receiving a call from Sanutti-Spencer who allegedly threatened to have Dent killed if she didn’t stay away from their two young children.
No effort was made by the police to question Sanutti-Spencer about the alleged threat, the presentment said. However, due to the ongoing threats, on June 16, the police did install surveillance cameras at the newly rebuilt Millville Road home.
According to Spencer’s former divorce attorney, Joel Wiest, of Sunbury, he predicted he would be killed by two gunshots to the head.
Spencer was discovered dead from two gunshot wounds at his Fairview Drive home in Hemlock Township on July 3, 2012. The first bullet was allegedly fired from a rifle and hit his arm. The second shot came from a small caliber weapon and struck him in the head.
Police later found a sniper’s nest located in a wooded ridge about 115 feet from Spencer’s front door. One spent shell casing, a live round and gun case were found nearby.
State police Sgt. Shawn Williams testified the evidence at the crime scene suggests two people were involved in the killing.
Missing from the home were Spencer’s truck and dog. The dog was later found in Halifax Township, Dauphin County, about 12 miles from where Franklin was living at the time, and 72 miles from the murder scene.
The truck was found near the Brass Key bar, the Sunbury tavern owned and operated by Franklin’s son that was damaged in a January 2013 fire.
The threats against Spencer’s family and friends didn’t end with Spencer’s murder, according to the grand jury.
Sanutti-Spencer allegedly threatened Madeline Spencer, who overheard her former daughter-in-law say in a phone conversation with her teenage grandson, “Tell your Grammy, she is next.”
Appearing before the grand jury on Sept. 16, Sanutti-Spencer denied threatening to kill Spencer, Dent and and another person, Derk Reed, or burn down the two houses. She even claimed Spencer was happy the Millville Road home was set on fire.
Reed told the grand jury on Sept. 7, 2012, that Sanutti-Spencer threatened his life and then referred to her ex-husband, saying: “When he was lying on the ground dying, looking up, the last thing he saw was me before he died.”