INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - A Vero Lake Estates man faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted in the 2021 shooting death of his "close friend" John Spencer Jr., 41, following a first-degree murder indictment returned Wednesday.
Spencer's mother reported him missing from the family's Vero Lake Estates home three days before Thanksgiving.
Following a search, deputies on November 24 found Spencer's body in a wooded area bordering Vero Lake Estates in the 8400 block of 90th Avenue dead of apparent gunshot wounds with four spent .40-caliber casings nearby, according to a report.
Scott Hodges, 44, of the 8600 block of 95th Ave., was charged with first-degree murder and possession of a stolen firearm in the shooting.
During questioning earlier that day at his home regarding a stolen handgun, detectives reported Hodges told them where to find Spencer's body and that two days before he had shot him and left him there, arrest records stated.
Hodges account of the shooting, officials said, changed from one of self-defense, saying initially he wrestled a gun away from Spencer, to one of suspicion and fear, and that he drew and fired on Spencer while the two were out on a trip to do drugs.
Ultimately, detectives found the killing premeditated and charged Spencer with first-degree murder after learning Hodges pulled a gun on Spencer, shot him once and then three more times in the chest after he had fallen. He then left without calling for help, according to an affidavit.
On Dec. 9, 2021 Hodges filed a plea of not guilty.
Grand Jury indictment
Court records show on May 11, a grand jury seated in Indian River County returned an indictment charging him with first-degree murder with a firearm. He was arrested on the new charge May 12 at the Indian River County Jail, records show.
Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman on Friday said the state will not seek the death penalty if Hodges is found guilty as charged.
"If he's convicted of first-degree murder it's a mandatory life sentence," Workman said.
Hodges did not meet what Workman said were the legal standards required for the death penalty following prosecutors' evaluation of the case.
To seek the death penalty, the state is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at least one of 16 statutory aggravators before a jury could vote for death. The decision must be unanimous.
Workman said he couldn't get into specifics about their decision, because the case is ongoing.
After Wednesday's indictment, Workman said Hodges' attorneys would begin to build their defense against the charge.
"The defense is going through their discovery I expect it will take a lot before it goes to trial," he said.
Hodges' attorney, Keith Szachacs of Melbourne-based Funk, Scachacz & Diamond, LLC., didn't respond to a request for comment Friday.
Deputies searched Vero Lake Estates near Hodges' home November 23, 2021 after a missing person report was filed by Spencer's mother when she found his phone at their home in the 9300 block of 87th Street where Spencer was last seen Nov. 21.
She believed Spencer, whose white Honda Accord was parked at Hodges' residence, was last with Hodges, a licensed local real estate agent. She described him as a close friend living just over a quarter-mile west on 95th Avenue, according to court records.
Hodges, detectives said, was evasive when asked about what happened to Spencer or his whereabouts and allegedly made statements such as, "It's not good" or he hoped Spencer was still alive.
Records show investigators searched the home and found handguns, including a 9 mm pistol Hodges later admitted knowing was stolen from Cocoa, and his own .40-caliber pistol. The stolen handgun led to his arrest and the interview inside his home, a detective reported.
He said he and Spencer met to do drugs the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2021 and later pulled over on 90th Avenue during an argument.
Reports stated Spencer's family members knew he struggled with opioid addiction and recently had relapsed and was spending more time with Hodges.
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Corey Arwood is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. Follow Corey on Twitter @coreyarwood, or reach him by phone at 772-978-2246.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Scott Hodges faces a charge of first-degree murder with a firearm