Sentencing to close books on 13-year cold case

Charles Melvin Spencer

The remains of the Crimora woman were found on a West Virginia mountain in early 2004, a month after she disappeared from her home. But the case languished for years, a cold case until two newly elected Augusta County constitutional officers took it on.

Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith and Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin vigorously pursued the case after taking office a year ago this month.

Melvin Spencer, now 70, was arrested in March. And when he was tried in October, evidence included a confession from Spencer with the help of a confidential informant. That evidence was critical to his conviction of first-degree murder.

Also in evidence was the fact that Joanne Spencer was buried in McDowell County, W.Va. where Melvin Spencer grew up, and that she died from bullets fired from a .25-caliber pistol.

The maker of the gun was the former Raven Arms gun manufacturing company, a gun and make that Melvin Spencer had owned. The gun was not found when the house was searched.

Martin said the Spencer case "is a tribute to the sheriff and his investigators. They never did give up on it."

The prosecutor said the case serves as a cautionary tale to anyone who commits a violent crime: Even if you've gone years without getting caught, you're not necessarily in the clear.

"They should not rest easy,'' Martin said.

Beyond the determination to solve the case, Martin said there is gratification.

"To bring Melvin Spencer to justice after all this time is a wonderful feeling,'' Martin said. "To think that Joanne's family suffered while he was at liberty for those years, it feels good to close the book on Melvin Spencer's freedom."

The jury in the trial recommended that Spencer be sentenced to life in prison, and Judge Victor Ludwig will formally hand down pass sentence at Thursday's hearing.

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