CHARLESTON - Gregory Spencer, Mississippi County's community gun violence prosecutor, is in place and ready to go.
"I am personally looking forward to serving the fine people of Mississippi County and look forward to developing lasting relationships with the community," Spencer said. "Ultimately I want people to feel safe in their homes and walking down the streets of their neighborhoods."
Spencer's position was created as part of President George W. Bush's initiative to reduce gun crime nationwide. Dubbed Project Safe Neighborhoods, the idea is to discourage firearm-related violence with swift criminal prosecution. "Today there are more than enough laws available to effectively prosecute those who choose violence," Spencer said. "It is time that we as a community start enforcing those laws rather than pushing for more legislation every time a violent act occurs."
The program aims to increase prosecution of these types of crimes by providing U.S. Department of Justice grants to hire additional prosecutors, particularly in counties in need. Jennifer Raffety, Mississippi County prosecuting attorney, received notification that her office had received grant funding through this program in February.
While heavy case loads may put pressure on prosecutors to allow defendants to plea down to lesser charges, Spencer's position allows him to "focus on the top and stay there at that level because I have all the time in the world to prosecute them," he explained. "I'm not worried about moving the cases quickly."
Spencer said in crimes which involve the use of a firearm, the defendant can face additional charges such as armed criminal action which, if found guilty, can add three years to life in prison to the sentence.
He estimated about a quarter of violent assaults involve the use of a firearm.
Spencer said his first goal in his new position is to develop a strong network of cooperation between himself, local law enforcement agencies and the community.
"Only if we as a community can cooperate at all levels will we be able to effectively fight violent crime," Spencer said.
Spencer brings with him a strong background in the practice of criminal law. A 1998 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, Spencer first went to work as public defender assigned to Scott and Mississippi counties before accepting a position in Scott County as a full-time assistant prosecutor.
During his three years as a public defender, Spencer worked on over 20 felony cases. "About half of those were as lead counsel and the other half assisting the lead attorney," he recalled.
Spencer believes his time as a public defender has equipped him with a better perspective of criminal cases and enhances his performance as a prosecutor. "It's the same job but from a different perspective," he said. "I found defense work satisfying and I find prosecution to be very satisfying."
Although Spencer began his new duties for Mississippi County Wednesday, he will finish up the prosecution of Troy Fenton who is facing charges stemming from the Oct. 10 robbery of Super D in Sikeston.
"I worked that case since a few hours after it happened," said Spencer, "so I'm going to try to see that out through the trial."
The Fenton case is currently waiting on a change of venue decision. "The judge should be ruling on that motion within the next couple of weeks," he said.
When not handling firearm-related crimes, Spencer will assist Raffety with other cases.
Spencer said he encourages anyone who has questions about his position or who would like additional information about Missouri firearms laws to contact him at the prosecutor's office.