Lifestyle that led up to shooting included belief in ‘tree people,’ heavy drinking

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By Tom Wilmoth

    According to Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz, Tammy Dell Spencer is “crazy like a fox.”

    Now, more than two-and-a-half years after her live-in boyfriend was shot in the head at their Bedford County home near Vinton, she’s been sentenced for the shooting.
    A hearing Tuesday in Bedford County Circuit Court was laced with talk by Spencer, 51, and others of “tree people” stalking her and her boyfriend, along with testimony of several trips to mental hospitals while awaiting sentencing and multiple mental problems including post traumatic stress disorder.
    Spencer, according to Krantz, seemed to always suffer mental issues as time drew near for her sentencing, having pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the January 2009 shooting death of 47-year-old Charles Edwin Pagans. She had originally been charged with first degree murder but accepted the plea agreement, which stated she had to spend at least three years in jail, in March 2010.
    In Bedford County Circuit Court Monday, Judge James Updike sentenced Spencer to 10 years in prison, with six years suspended. She’ll get credit for the time she has already served.
    But Krantz believes Spencer used malingering as a way to postpone sentencing as well as avoid a stiffer sentence. A medical term used to refer to someone fabricating or exaggerating the events that led to Pagans’ death on Jan. 7, 2009.
    “I think she was malingering a lot,” he said of Spencer. “Ninety-five percent of what you saw (in testimony) Monday was a ploy.”
    Still, he said, the prosecution’s case involved a traumatic death with no eye witnesses.
    “The physical evidence did not support a suicide,” he said. But the medical examiner’s office also did not put a determination on the manner of death, which played a part in offering Spencer the plea deal.
    Krantz, however, said during Monday’s hearing that Spencer seemed to suffer the physical and mental problems as time closed on for her to be in the courtroom for sentencing. He said Spencer’s symptoms of mental illness were inconsistent.
    But that, he said, wasn’t to say she had some sort of a problem, even PTSD, created from having witnessed someone having a shotgun blast to their head. “The problem was she was the one doing the blowing off (shooting Pagan),” he said. “Most people have fairly identifiable categories (of mental illness). She was all across the board.”
    Krantz admitted that Pagans could be a violent individual and that he was a heavy drinker. His blood alcohol level at the time of his death was .31, more than three times the legal limit. Testimony Monday indicated he had been drinking moonshine heavily in the days leading up to his death as well as taking cocaine.
    “They had argued and he had hit her,” Krantz said of the events leading up to Pagans’ death. “I think she had enough of it.”
    Because of the blood splatter, Krantz said it was clear that Spencer had been next to Pagans when he was shot in the head. She testified during Monday’s hearing that Pagans shot himself, and had given indications leading up to that day that he planned to do so, including asking for a suit to be buried in.
    But Krantz said the position Pagans was killed in was awkward and it was unlikely he would have been able to shoot himself.
    “We took into account the dysfunctional circumstances she was in,” Krantz said in offering the plea deal. “By her own admission she had asked him to leave and he wouldn’t.”
    Those circumstances also included testimony that both Spencer and Pagans believed “tree people” were watching them. According to Spencer’s testimony, these were people who were living in the trees, stalking them daily. One witness testified that Pagans had told him he had actually captured some of the “tree people” and had them locked in a room.
    “We were very afraid (of them),” Spencer said of the “tree people.” She said Pagans had numerous guns and knives around the home for protection, as well as bells and extra locks on the doors to keep them out.
    Spencer testified that Pagans drank about a half gallon of vodka every day and that he had been drinking the moonshine and using cocaine in the days leading up to his death. “I don’t know what happened,” she said of the shot that killed Pagans. “I tried to fix his face. I tried to save him. … I was trying to wake him up.”
    Clinical psychologist Dr. Wayne Sloop, who had seen Spencer several times, said she suffered from a variety of disorders including paranoia and delusional thinking. “She obviously believes people were out there in (camouflage) ghilly suits,” he testified. “But that did not interfere with her (ability) to function in other capacities of her life.”
    Assistant Public Defender Kelli Boyer said Spencer and Pagans had been living a bizarre, dysfunctional lifestyle. “In the end she loved him very much,” Boyer stated. “We can only guess what actually happened that night.”
    Prior to Judge Updike pronouncing sentence, Spencer said she didn’t kill Pagans. “I loved him very much,” she stated.
    Pagans’ step-daughter and granddaughter both testified at the hearing, asking for the stiffest possible sentence, which according to sentencing guidelines would have been five years, 11 months.