Jury weighs murder charge in Austin stabbing death of Daniel Spencer


Attorneys for James Miller say he was acting in self-defense when he fatally stabbed Daniel Spencer.

Prosecutors say self-defense claim is unfounded: Spencer was stabbed in the back, and Miller had no injuries.

A Travis County jury began deliberating Monday evening in the murder trial of 67-year-old James Robert Miller Jr., who is accused of fatally stabbing 32-year-old Daniel Spencer in September 2015.

Miller’s attorney says it was self-defense.

Spencer was killed at his home early on the morning of Sept. 21, after inviting Miller to his house to play guitar. Spencer, a film editor from Los Angeles, had moved to Austin in 2014.

The two men had been drinking, and Miller told officials he thought Spencer was coming on to him, according to a police report. Miller testified that he told Spencer he was not gay and tried to leave and then Spencer started yelling at him and waving his hands. When asked if they fought, Miller said no.

Prosecutors said because Spencer did not touch Miller or state any intention to hurt him, the notion that he used deadly force for self-defense was “ludicrous.”

Prosecutor Matthew Foye said the facts that Spencer was stabbed in the back and that Miller showed no sign of harm on his body the day of the slaying prove it was not self-defense.

“The defendant doesn’t have so much as a scratch on him,” Foye said, comparing photos of the crime scene with a photo of Miller’s hands the same day. “This defendant murdered Daniel Spencer.”

Foye said the threat of sexual assault as a basis for self-defense does not make sense because Miller had never spoken about a specific sexual advance.

“Even an unwanted kiss does not qualify as a sexual assault,” Foye said. “It’s pretty absurd. It can’t possibly be immediately necessary to use deadly force if no one is attempting to use force against you.”

Miller’s attorney argued that the difference in the men’s stature could have made Miller fear for his safety.

Miller is 66 years old, 5 feet 4 inches tall and on Social Security, attorney Charlie Baird said, which means Spencer’s youth, health and size could have been intimidating.

Baird said he did not want to let race be a part of the decision, so he told the jury to switch Miller’s position as a black man with that of Spencer, who is white.

“He is confronted by an individual who is 6-foot, 6-foot-4, somewhere around there, half (his) age … strong,” Baird said. “I want you to put yourself in Mr. Miller’s shoes.”

Miller turned himself in at 3:45 the same morning and told police “I think I killed someone. … I stabbed him,” according to an arrest report.

The fact that Miller went to the police that morning to ask for help proves he was not trying to hide evidence and that he had no malice toward Spencer, Baird said.

Prosecutor Efrain De La Fuente said Miller’s words cannot be trusted because Spencer is not around to give an alternative account. He said the placement of the blood in the crime scene proves that there was more of a struggle than Miller said.

“He’s lying to you. He’s lying to you because the evidence tells you something else happened in there,” De La Fuente said. “Blood does not lie.”

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