Gulfport man now faces murder charge in attack at homeless camp

James Woodard
James Woodard

A homeless man who has been jailed since he was accused of beating another homeless man with a lead pipe at a campsite now faces a charge of second-degree murder.

The victim, identified in a court document as Ronald Nelson Spencer Jr., died of his injuries, officials said. Spencer was 55.

Police went to the Harrison County jail Tuesday and served James Christopher Woodard, 31, with an arrest warrant on the upgraded charge. He has been held on an aggravated assault charge since his arrest after the beating on July 14.

Woodard punched, kicked and struck Spencer with his hand, feet and a metal pipe several times on his head, face and body, according to an investigator’s affidavit.

Spencer was assaulted at a homeless camp east of 30th Avenue and south of 28th Street. The area is near Kansas City Southern Railway tracks.

Spencer had a collapsed lung, a severed ear, a brain bleed and several cuts on his head, the affidavit said. Spencer also had several deep, swollen scratches on his body.

Police had received a call about 12:18 p.m. and were told a man had called a relative, saying he had beaten someone with a lead pipe and he thought the man was going to die.

Officers found the campsite after some searching and found Spencer suffering serious injuries . He was taken to a hospital.

Police said Woodard tried to flee, but officers found him a short time later. He was taken to the Harrison County jail and held under a $100,000 bond set by Justice Judge Melvin Ray.

A detective questioned Woodard and he admitted he had assaulted Spencer, the affidavit said.

Spencer told officials that Woodard is the one who assaulted him.

On Sunday, Gulfport police detectives learned Spencer had died of his injuries.

Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner has set bond on the murder charge at $1 million.

Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove was still trying to locate Spencer’s family Wednesday, police said.

It’s not the first time Woodard has been accused in a felony assault.

Gulfport police had arrested him on an aggravated assault charge on June 2, 2016, alleging he had stabbed another homeless man. A grand jury declined to hand up an indictment because the victim couldn’t be found, said Harrison County prosecuting attorney Herman Cox.

Woodard had been in jail on that charge for 11 months and had been out of jail since April 28, about three months.

Woodard was convicted of auto theft after an arrest in 2011 and of meth possession after an arrest in 2014, the jail docket shows.

Although Woodard claims to be homeless, his paperwork for a court-appointed attorney lists his home address on Fox Ridge Drive in Vancleave.

The murder case was bound over to the next grand jury after a court hearing Wednesday.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews