Trial begins for man accused of shooting four at USC party

Trial begins for man accused of shooting four at USC party
USC students, sitting near the site of the Halloween party shooting, pray for the safety of the campus the day after the shooting occurred. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A man accused of opening fire outside a Halloween party at USC in 2012, wounding four people, was retaliating for his being shot by a rival gang member, a prosecutor said Wednesday on the first day of his trial.

Brandon Spencer, 21, is charged with four counts of attempted murder in the shooting amid a large crowd of people waiting to enter a Halloween night party at the USC student center's ballroom.


Spencer believed a Crips-affiliated gang member had been responsible for shooting him in the stomach, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Antonella Nistorescu said in court.

Spencer had also earlier argued with former Crenshaw High School football star Geno Hall on Twitter about their rival gang affiliations, Nistorescu said, adding that the tweets ended with Hall issuing Spencer a challenge to come find him.

"This isn't the kind of rivalry we're talking about in football games," Nistorescu told the nine women and three men on the jury. "This is a rivalry steeped in violence."

The shooting rattled nerves, particularly because it came six months after two USC graduate students were fatally shot in a robbery, and prompted university officials to increase security for campus events.

The night of the party, Spencer ran into Hall and they began arguing. Hall suffered four gunshot wounds. Three other males also were shot.

"The evidence in this case will show you that there is no place immune from gang violence," Nistorescu said.

A USC public safety officer identified Spencer as the shooter and followed him to a campus parking lot, where he was arrested, the prosecutor said. A revolver was later recovered in the same parking lot and matched to the shots fired.

Spencer's attorney, John Blanchard, countered Wednesday that authorities could not recover any fingerprints from the gun, that a DNA sample provided only a possible match to Spencer and that a witness a few feet away from the shots could not identify Spencer in a lineup shortly afterward.

Many people that night were wearing similar T-shirts — white with red sleeves — making identifying the shooter difficult, Blanchard said. He argued that several gangs were represented in the crowd.

"In that part of town, you can expect a lot of unsavory people are going to come on campus," Blanchard said to the jury.

Several three-wheeled electric scooters used by USC public safety officers had dashboard cameras pointed at the scene, but none of the videos clearly showed the shooting.

Spencer, who is being held in lieu of $2-million bail, faces life in prison if convicted. A dozen of his friends and family members attended Wednesday's hearing.