Convicted murderer Maria Sanutti-Spencer will appear in Columbia County Court for a two-day Post Conviction Relief Act hearing later this month to argue her defense attorney did not allow her to testify in her own defense and lied to her during her week-long trial in 2015.
Sanutti-Spencer, 55, was granted the two-day hearing which will take place Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 in Columbia County. It will be heard by Somerset County Senior Judge David C. Klementik. There, Sanutti-Spencer will attempt to prove her attorney Christian Hoey, of Philadelphia, failed to represent her best interests while fighting the charges of murder.
Former Bloomsburg state police Cpl. Shawn Williams, now Shikellamy School District Police Chief, arrested Sanutti-Spencer and her father, Anthony “Rocco” Franklin, 77, of Harrisburg, in 2014 for the murder of Sanutti-Spencer’s ex-husband, Frank Spencer, 46, of Millville.
Williams said Sanutti-Spencer and her father plotted to kill Frank Spencer, who was found shot to death in his Millville home on July 2, 2012.
Sanutti-Spencer, through her new attorney Frank McCabe, of Kingston, Luzerne County, is now asking that the courts grant an evidentiary hearing to determine if Hoey was ineffective and thus she deserves a new trial.
According to court documents Sanutti-Spencer, who is serving her life sentence at Muncy state prison, will be transferred to Columbia County Prison days before her hearing.
Sanutti-Spencer said she wanted her children Cyrus Spencer and Frankie Spencer as witnesses during her trial, but Hoey did not allow them to testify.
Both are expected to testify in the Columbia County hearing.
Sanutti-Spencer has filed several motions, including one that says her brother, Anthony Sanutti, testified during their father’s trial in 2018 that Franklin admitted to Anthony Sanutti that he acted alone when he shot and killed Frank Spencer.
Sanutti-Spencer said Hoey never told her her father admitted to the crime and she had no idea.
Sanutti-Spencer was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Franklin was also found guilty in 2018 of murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
“I became aware through the trial of my co-defendant (Franklin) that the commonwealth introduced two witnesses, (Anthony and Michael) Sanutti who testified that the co-defendant (Franklin) confessed to killing (Spencer) by himself,” Sanutti-Spencer wrote.
Sanutti-Spencer also claims in court documents Hoey wrote his closing argument 45-minutes prior to delivering it to the jury and told her, “I should always wait to write my closing, I nailed this.” Sanutti Spencer said Hoey only met with her three times while she was incarcerated and demanded her family stop sending him evidence.
Sanutti-Spencer says Hoey failed to represent her best interest after he allegedly lied to her during her trial.
Sanutti-Spencer said she wanted for her son, Cyrus Spencer, to testify that she was with him at the time of the murder but that Hoey decided to not call her son as a witness.
Sanutti-Spencer alleges Hoey did not call the two witnesses because “they would not have made good witnesses as they were African American and it’s a small town jury.”
State police contend either Sanutti-Spencer or Franklin hid in a tree stand and shot Spencer while the other shot Spencer at point blank range.
Sanutti Spencer, through McCabe, said Hoey came to visit her prior to her trial and was angry when he got there. “He said he didn’t want to get caught in traffic driving back to Philadelphia,” Sanutti-Spencer wrote. “I apologized for not telling him he looked nice and I was glad to see him. I tried to get him to talk about my defense but he wouldn’t do it. He spent the remainder of the time telling me how he was going to kick the state attorney’s butt.”
Sanutti-Spencer said she was shocked when Hoey refused to let her testify.
“A defendant who doesn’t take the stand is a convicted man,” Sanutti-Spencer wrote in the filing.
“He had my sister try to talk me out of it. I would not change my mind. On the last day of my trial, we got into a huge argument and I started to cry. He told me if I didn’t do as he advises, he is leaving.”
Cyrus Spencer submitted a letter to the court saying his father was not afraid of his mother, and that he witnessed Frank Spencer punch his mother in the leg which made her scream in pain.
Cyrus Spencer said he jumped on his father’s back in an attempt to make him stop hurting his mother and his father threw him off his back and walked away.
Cyrus Spencer said the night prior to his father’s murder he was with his mother.
“I slept in the same bed with my mother,” he wrote. “We went to bed late. I woke up at 8 a.m. alone in bed and walked upstairs and saw my mother in fuzzy pajamas watching morning cartoons drinking a cup of tea.”
Frankie Spencer wrote she would have testified her parents stayed together even through a divorce and they slept in the same bed.
“I would have testified my mother was incapable of committing this crime,” she said. “At the time my dad died, she could not walk up the steps to shower without his help.”
Franklin denied the killing even though his sons testified he admitted to the slaying. Franklin said his sons were told what to say by police. Franklin also contends Sanutti-Spencer did not kill her ex-husband. In an interview with The Daily Item in 2018, Franklin said he knows what happened to Spencer but it’s “none of my business.”
McCabe said Hoey was ineffective and should have called Cyrus Spencer, Frankie Spencer and Anthony Sanutti as witnesses during the trial.
Sanutti-Spencer declined comment on the hearing and McCabe did not return a call seeking comment.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, does not comment on pending cases, according to a spokesperson.
The hearings begin at 9 a.m. on both days.