Handyman to be tried in Oakland death
Bloomfield Hills — A handyman charged in the beating death of a 77-year-old man told detectives he struck the victim once in the head with a hammer during an argument and then committed “overkill” to place the blame on the man’s son.
That was part of the grim testimony Tuesday during a preliminary examination for Bart Mitchell Spencer, 45, of Wayne. After hearing testimony from investigators, family and others Bloomfield 48th District Judge Diane D’Agostini said there was more than enough evidence to bind Spencer over to Oakland Circuit Court.
Spencer will stand trial for open murder, larceny, arson and firearms offense in the Sept. 4 death of William Whitelaw.
Spencer’s attorney, Carl Jordon, told D’Agostini: “I do not believe there is any indication that this was premeditated,” in what is expected as a prelude to seeking lesser charges.
John Whitelaw found his father’s lifeless body on a couch inside the condominium on Maple Hills Drive and called authorities.
Investigators said candles were lit and the gas left on inside the home in an apparent attempt to cause a fire and destroy evidence. Troy Police Detective Sgt. Robert Wolfe testified Spencer later made voluntary statements that the killing occurred after Whitelaw “touched” Spencer during an argument the morning of the killing.
“He (Spencer) said he was up on a ladder doing patchwork around 10 o’clock and he (Whitelaw) became upset when some patching fell on the floor and couch,” said Wolfe, recalling a nearly two-hour interview with Spencer who described Whitelaw as “a grumpy, ornery old man.”
“He (Spencer) got down from the ladder to get a broom and Whitelaw got up and touched Spencer and he spun around and hit Whitelaw in the temple (with a hammer).
“He said he felt he was dead from this single strike but ‘then I did overkill.’ ”
Spencer said he struck Whitelaw multiple times with the hammer.
Assistant medical examiner Dr. Cheryl Loewe testified Tuesday an autopsy disclosed at least 16 blows to the scalp that “shattered his head like an egg.” Whitelaw also suffered lacerations and a fractured wrist and fingers in what were described as “defensive wounds” from trying to ward off the attack.
His neck also had ligature marks from being strangled by a wire or possibly a telephone card, Loewe testified.
“Based on scene information and the blood and brain matter that was in the chair he was probably seated and caught off guard and approached from behind,” Loewe testified.
Wolfe said in a nearly two-hour interview with Spencer he told how he struck Whitelaw multiple times to “implicate the son as the responsible party.” He could not explain the wounds to the neck or hands, Wolfe said.
Before leaving the condominium with handguns, jewelry, two Rolex watches, coins, a Detroit Tigers 1968 team autographed baseball and other property, Spencer “wanted to make it look like an assassination.” Wolfe said Spencer tore out a gas line from the fireplace and lit candles on the dining room table. The anticipated fire did not occur.
Whitelaw’s son testified he arrived at the home with his own three children, ages 7, 9, and 11 and made the grim discovery and snuffed out the candles.
Spencer, who has pleaded not guilty, was arrested a few days after the slaying after police say he pawned valuables taken from Whitelaw’s home.
Police said Spencer had once been employed as a handyman in the condominium complex and Whitelaw, who was the condo association’s president, knew him and hired him to do work inside his own residence. Family and a longtime girlfriend said Whitelaw was unhappy with work Spencer had done and had called him back Sept. 4 to repair a roof that was still leaking despite previous repairs.
Spencer faces up to life in prison if convicted of the crimes.