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Judge delays bond decision in South grad's beating death
Prosecutor: ‘The weapon in this case is Grant Spencer himself’

STATESBORO — After a bond hearing Wednesday lasting nearly three hours, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Chief Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. said he would review the testimony before deciding whether to grant bond for a bouncer accused of beating a South Forsyth High graduate to death in August.

Grant James Spencer, 20, of Olympic Boulevard, bowed his head as the father of the victim spoke during the hearing Wednesday in Bulloch County Superior Court.

Spencer is charged with aggravated battery and felony murder in connection with the death of Michael Gatto, 18, after an incident Aug. 28 at Rude Rudy’s.

Spencer allegedly physically attacked Gatto at the bar, where Spencer was a bouncer. According to a post on the Rude Rudy’s Facebook page that was removed shortly after it appeared, Spencer was not on duty at the time.

The bar has since closed after owner Jonathan Starkey surrendered his alcohol license prior to a scheduled hearing in September regarding the incident and alleged alcohol violations.

The victim’s father, also named Michael Gatto, was emotional as he spoke to the court, citing the reasons he feels Spencer should be denied bond.

“Grant Spencer beat to death [the victim] with fearful blows to the head,” he said. “My son’s head injuries were massive … Grant Spencer is missing a quality that separates human beings from wild animals.”

Gatto was graphic in his description of his son’s injuries, including skull fractures sustained during the attack.

Statesboro Police Detective Sgt. James Winskey also testified, telling the court that while there were allegations that the younger Gatto was trying to steal, or stole, money from a tip jar, no theft occurred.

Gatto “did nothing wrong” that would have warranted the attack, and the incident was captured on video, Winskey said.

When Assistant District Attorney Daphne Totten asked whether Spencer’s actions during the incident would have been warranted had there actually been a theft, Winskey said, “No.”

Several people who said they have known Spencer for years testified that he is a good-natured person with no history of violence, that he mentored younger teens and had compassion for others.

One of Spencer’s attorneys, David Wolfe of Atlanta, asked Woodrum to consider a $35,000 bond with conditions that Spencer be confined to his parents’ home in Johns Creek, near Atlanta, and be monitored by GPS with an ankle attachment.

But Totten told the court Spencer had two other alcohol-related charges before the Aug. 28 incident, within less than a year’s time.

Spencer was cited for underage possession of alcohol in 2013 and a DUI case stemming from an April incident is still pending, she said.

Spencer was charged with DUI and possession of a false ID, as well as giving false information to officers, and was out on a $10,000 bond for that case when the Aug. 28 incident at Rude Rudy’s occurred, Totten said.

Because Spencer showed disregard for probation mandates from that case by consuming alcohol at Rude Rudy’s the night of the beating, he poses a risk and shows he may not follow conditions of a bond for this case, she said.

Wolfe said Spencer pleaded not guilty to the DUI charge, and the case is still pending. He said Spencer would seek treatment for alcohol issues.

“It seems Grant has a drinking problem,” Wolfe said.

Winskey testified that Nathan Queen, manager of Retrievers Sports Bar and Grill, helped police locate Spencer after the Aug. 28 incident, reaching him by phone and asking him to turn himself in.

Spencer did not reply to messages and a text left on his phone by Winskey and, hours later, the detective said, Spencer was arrested at Retrievers.

Winskey said investigators interviewed 17 witnesses, and said Gatto died of “blunt force trauma to  the head.” He said Spencer was suffered only slight bruising on his hands after the incident.

Spencer’s parents, Ron and Christy Spencer, expressed sorrow and compassion for the Gatto family during testimony, adding that they, too, had lost a son to tragic causes in the past. They asked Woodrum to consider bond for Grant Spencer and assured him they would see that he complied with conditions.

Totten asked that bond be denied.

“We believe Grant Spencer is an extreme danger to the community,” she said. “The weapon in this case is Grant Spencer himself. Alcohol treatment is not going to solve Mr. Spencer’s problems in this case. It is hard to ignore the history Mr. Spencer has” regarding prior alcohol violations.

Wolfe argued that Spencer needs treatment and cited an ongoing issue in the city regarding underage drinking.

“Alcohol is a problem in this city” that is being addressed by the Statesboro City Council, Wolfe said.

Woodrum told the court he would review the case and make a decision “within a short time.”