Press Release

Fugitive charged with homicide in “Black Widow” case returns to Pennsylvania to face justice

April 12, 2017 | Topic: Criminal

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced the return to Pennsylvania of a fugitive who fled the country months before he was criminally charged in connection with the murder of his former son-in-law.

Anthony Rocco Franklin, 75, arrived today in Harrisburg under the supervision of the U.S. Marshals Service. Franklin had been held in prison in Argentina until authorities there recently approved his return to the United States.

Franklin fled the country in 2013 after he testified before a statewide investigating grand jury investigating the murder of Franklin’s former son-in-law, Frank Spencer, who was fatally shot at his home in Hemlock Township near Bloomsburg, Columbia County.

Franklin was charged in 2014 with homicide and other crimes for his role in Spencer’s 2012 murder.

“Franklin fled the country to avoid being prosecuted for his role in this brutal murder,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Our investigators never gave up on this case, and today Franklin is back in Pennsylvania where he belongs to stand trial for homicide.”

In 2015, the Office of Attorney General secured a first-degree murder conviction of Franklin’s daughter, Maria Sanutti-Spencer, who was also charged with Spencer’s murder. Sanutti-Spencer was married to Spencer before the couple divorced.

Sanutti-Spencer, 52, came to be known locally as the “Black Widow” because she openly discussed killing her husband prior to his murder. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Franklin is scheduled to be transported today to Columbia County, where he is expected to appear for a preliminary arraignment.

A statewide investigating grand jury recommended the criminal charges against Franklin and Sanutti-Spencer. Between 2009 and 2012, Franklin and Sanutti-Spencer engaged in a pattern of behavior that elicited fear and intimidation in Spencer, his family and friends.

The grand jury found that Spencer reported threats on his life to law enforcement numerous times. By 2012, Spencer believed he was going to be murdered and reported to family and friends that there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

Attorney General Shapiro thanked the Pennsylvania State Police for their work on this investigation. “The Pennsylvania State Police were a strong partner to our office during this investigation and our efforts to bring Franklin back to Pennsylvania to face these charges. There’s no statute of limitations for murder.”

Attorney General Shapiro also thanked U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta and Tom Marino for working with federal authorities to help facilitate Franklin’s return. “We’re grateful to Congressmen Barletta and Marino for their involvement and help in the extradition of Mr. Franklin back to Pennsylvania to face justice in this case,” Shapiro said.

Franklin will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Forray of the Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecutions Section.

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