Molestation suspect dies during an apparent suicide attempt

Published 10:38 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Owatonna People’s Press

SOMERSET TOWNSHIP — An Austin man who was facing criminal sex charges in Mower County died in rural Steele County over the weekend after a botched suicide attempt when he fell out of the tree from which he was trying to hang himself.

The body of James Carle Spencer, 37, was discovered by Steele County Sheriff’s deputies beneath a tree in a field in the Somerset Township on Saturday, according to Steele County Sheriff Don Gudmundson. A local farmer alerted the sheriff’s office to the area when he discovered an empty car sitting in the field, Gudmundson said.

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When deputies searched the area, they found Spencer’s body. Gudmundson said that it appeared that Spencer had climbed the tree using deer spikes and had attached a rope to a branch in the tree, apparently in order to hang himself. But before he could put the rope around his neck, it appeared that a branch broke and Spencer fell to the ground where he died, Gudmundson said. Deputies discovered the rope still hanging in the tree, the sheriff said.

“Someone was clearly attempting suicide,” Gudmundson said.

Charged with six counts of criminal sexual conduct, Spencer was scheduled to go on trial next week in Mower.

“We anticipated it going to trial,” Jeremy Clinefelter, the assistant county attorney for Mower County and prosecutor for the case, said Monday, adding that the county already had purchased plane tickets to bring the victim back to Minnesota.

Spencer was arrested in February after the victim — a 14-year-old girl — reported that over the course of the previous year he had touched her inappropriately, eventually leading to 10 instances of intercourse, according to the criminal complaint. In total, between 70 and 90 “touching instances” occurred in both Austin and Brownsdale, the complaint said.

The girl’s aunt reported the incidents in February after Spencer told both her and his mother that he had molested the girl, the complaint said. Spencer also ended up at the Austin Medical Center at about this same time after he attempted suicide, the complaint says. He told the aunt and his mother that the molestation was the reason for his suicide attempt.

He was crying and embarrassed and said he was going to be ‘put away,’ the complaint says.

Law enforcement officials in Mower County had been looking for Spencer since Wednesday when Spencer’s wife alerted police that her husband was missing and perhaps suicidal, Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said Monday.

Gudmundson said it was unclear when Spencer fell to his death, though he said Spencer’s body showed signs of “pretty serious decomposition.” He speculated that the death could have occurred as early as Wednesday.

Nor could Gudmundson say what was the exact cause of death, adding that no alcohol, pills or pill bottles were found at the scene. The only clearly identifiable injury to Spencer was a broken arm, Gudmundson said.

The Steele County coroner, who will make the determination of the cause of death, met with the sheriff’s office on Monday. But Gudmundson said Monday afternoon that there was nothing remarkable in the autopsy. The toxicology report won’t be ready for about two weeks and problems with the decomposition of the body made the autopsy difficult, he said. As of now, the death is being classified only as an “unwitnessed death, Gudmundson said, “the classification used in this type of incident until we know more.”

“This is an odd type of case,” Gudmundson said.

— Mike Rose contributed to this report.