LACLEDE COUNTY, Mo. -- The man charged with first-degree murder in the death of Leslie Gregory walked out of a Laclede County courtroom Thursday a free man.
Joseph Robert Spencer, 39, formerly of Moniteau County, Mo., was acquitted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action at 2 p.m., Thursday, June 14, 2012, when the jury foreman returned crying to deliver a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
Spencer was arrested on May 20, 2008, nearly five years after Gregory was found dead in the front yard of a Moniteau County farm owned by Spencer’s grandmother.
According to Moniteau County Prosecutor Shane Healea, after the trial, jury members stated they believed Spencer was guilty but the evidence against him was not strong enough to convict.
In an attempt to secure a conviction, the prosecutor argued that Spencer was the last known person to see Gregory alive, reports indicated he had lied to Gregory’s parents and to law enforcement throughout the investigation, Gregory’s body was discovered in the yard of his grandmother’s home (next door to the property where Spencer resided at the time) and the Lincoln Town Car she was reportedly driving the night she disappeared was located in the field behind his grandmother’s home. The keys to the vehicle were later discovered in Spencer’s vehicle.
“It’s our job to present the facts to the jury and let them decide,” Healea said. “We did that and they obviously interpreted it differently.”
The case was nearly 10 years old, adding a level of difficulty, according to the prosecutor. Healea said some witnesses died and others developed health problems over the years causing them to be unable to recall information about the investigation
Healea was elected as prosecutor less than two years ago. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office was the lead prosecutor in the case.
Gregory went missing in November 2002 and was found less than two months later on Jan. 7, 2003. At the time of her disappearance, it was reported that she was giving Spencer a ride home in her mother’s 1994 Lincoln Town Car. Gregory and the car were both reported missing by her family.
Throughout the five-year investigation, law enforcement interviewed numerous individuals but remained tight-lipped about Gregory’s death and whom, other than Spencer, may have been considered a person of interest in the case.
According to the probable cause statement filed with the court at the time of Spencer’s arrest, he admitted to investigators that he was present when Gregory was killed. Investigators also noted that Spencer had given several inconsistent statements about the events that occurred on the night Gregory disappeared.
After Spencer’s arrest in 2008, during a preliminary hearing, it was revealed that Gregory died of five gunshot wounds to the head. In testimony, Dr. Edward Adelstein, the chief medical examiner for Boone and Callaway counties, testified that he performed the autopsy on Gregory on Jan. 8, 2003. The doctor determined she died of three gunshot wounds near the right ear and two gunshot wounds in the back of the head. Adelstein noted that gunpowder in one of the wounds indicated the weapon was likely pushed against her head when the trigger was pulled.
Adestein also noted that Gregory’s body was in an advanced state of decomposition when found, indicating she had been dead for a period of two to five months. According to investigators, her body was found in Spencer's grandmother's front yard rolled in carpet and a tarp and covered by a thin sheet of tin.
Spencer was released in April 2010 on a $150,000 surety bond after a reduction granted by Judge Kenneth Hayden. Spencer’s bond was later revoked and he was arrested on Feb. 14, 2012, and held on a no-bond warrant.
In light of the not-guilty verdict, Healea would not speculate as to whether an investigation into Gregory’s death would continue, or not.