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Conviction reached in ’83 slaying

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Scans from the January 3, 2003 edition of the Arizona Republic

From Arizona Republic January 3, 2003

Conviction reached in ’83 slaying

Guilty in 6-year-old’s death

By Brent Whiting

Adam Benjamin Clark, a 6-year-old Glendale boy, weighed just 22 pounds when he was murdered in 1983.

            A defenseless child born with serious mental and physical handicaps, he was beaten to death.

            According to family photos posted on the Internet, he was a towhead with a fetching grin.  Even though Adam was small, he has remained larger than life for people who remember him.

            The investigation into who killed Adam took a false step in the mid-1980’s, then languished for more than a dozen years.  However, perseverance by Glendale police and a renewed look at medical evidence have been credited for bringing a man long suspected in Adam’s death to justice.

            On Nov. 21, Harley Spencer, 60, formerly known as Eugene Colomvaro, was found guilty of second-degree murder.

            The jury verdict came after a nearly two-week trial in Maricopa County Superior Court.

            Spencer, a resident of Clinton, Utah, a small town southwest of Ogden, is scheduled for sentencing Wednesday.

            Sgt. Mark Campbell, 44, a Glendale officer, described the verdict as probably the most satisfying moment of his 22 years in law enforcement.

            “It’s hard to describe all of the emotions I was going through that day,” Campbell said.  “I had been waiting nearly 20 years for the moment.”

            When Adam died, Campbell was the first officer on the scene and cradles the boy in his arms and administered CPR in an attempt to save him.

            “The case had haunted me for years,” he said.  “I believed whoever harmed this boy was getting away with murder.”

            Campbell said Adam’s mother, Joyce, 49, once charged in the slaying, and the boy’s older sister, XXXXX, now 26, also were on hand when the jurors returned their verdict. 

            He described them as reserved people who don’t want to comment about the case until after Spencer is sentenced.

            Taking the stand in h is own defense, Spencer denied killing the boy.

            His lawyer, Vicki Lopez, a deputy public defender, has advised him not to discuss the case before sentencing.  Lopez said she believes there was “ample reasonable doubt” upon which the jurors could have acquitted Spencer.

            “The jury didn’t think so and they convicted him,” Lopez said a few days after the verdict. “That’s our system.”

            Campbell said his involvement dates from the night of Sept. 27, 1983, when he was on a routine patrol, driving through the parking lot of an apartment complex in the 6100 block of North 55th Avenue.

            Campbell said he observed a man, later identified as Spencer, saying good-bye to somebody in a car, later determined to be Adam’s mother.

            An hour later, the observation became significant when he was dispatched to the complex for a call about a boy who had stopped breathing.

            Campbell said that is when he encountered Spencer, who had been taking care of Adam in the absence of his mother.

            Campbell administered CPR until Glendale firefighters arrived and rushed Adam to a Glendale hospital, where the boy was pronounced dead.

            Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig, then the Maricopa County medical examiner, determined that Adam had died of multiple injuries, including brain swelling, a lacerated liver and a crushing injury of the pancreas.

            He ruled out the possibility that Adam had died of natural causes because of a syndrome since birth that left him diminutive, severely retarded and missing his left forearm.

            Karnitschnig said that the fatal injuries could have been inflicted as many as six hours before the boy’s death.

            Based on that medical evidence, Joyce Clark, the mother, was indicted by a Maricopa County grand jury in January 1984 on a charge of second-degree murder.

            Five months later, prosecutors agreed to drop the charge after Karnitschnig advised there was a possibility the fatal injuries were as little as 30 minutes to an hour old.

            That would have placed the injuries within the hour that Adam was known not to have been with his mother, based on Campbell’s observations.

            The weight of suspicion then shifted to Spencer, but prosecutors took no action, and the police file was closed and began gathering dust.

            Campbell said that about two years ago, based upon success by Glendale police in handling other cold cases, he began pushing for a renewed investigation in Adam’s death.

            He said Bruce Foremny, a homicide detective, took the assignment and built a case that eventually resulted in Spencer’s indictment and arrest last March.

            The case was bolstered when Dr. Keen, the county’s current chief medical examiner, took a renewed look at the medical evidence.

            He concluded that the fatal injuries were inflicted within the hour that Adam was known to be in the care of Spencer.

            Under Arizona laws in force in 1983, Spencer can receive from 14-21 years in prison.

Reach the reporter at
brent.whiting@arizonarepulic.com or
(602) 444-6937

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