John Christopher Spaulding logged his first arrest and conviction, for armed robbery, on March 8, 1998. It was his 20th birthday.
Over nearly three decades, he was arrested 22 times, leading to four stints in state prison. The most glaring offense was the stabbing death of a neighbor in North Miami-Dade in June 2004.
He chose to represent himself at trial for murder. And to the surprise of Miami’s courthouse, the jury could not agree on a verdict, leading a judge to declare a mistrial and forcing prosecutors to offer a 10-year plea deal for manslaughter.
That was far from the end of trouble for Spaulding, who was implicated in another murder this week and on Monday was shot dead in a volley of police bullets outside the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.
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Detectives with three police agencies are still working to unravel the final days of Spaulding, who was wanted in connection with the slaying of his girlfriend, 55-year-old Artemisa Woods, who was found stabbed to death inside her Miami home on Sunday.
A bulletin was put out for her gold Jeep Cherokee, which he was driving. Roving Miami-Dade detectives, armed with a license-plate reader, found Spaulding outside the jail and approached on foot. It remains unclear why he was near the jail.
“Someone saw a firearm and yelled it out,” said Miami-Dade police union president John Rivera.
The detectives ordered him to put up his hands. He did briefly, but as officers yelled out “don’t do it,” Spaulding reached down toward his waistband, according to law-enforcement sources.
A gun was found in Spaulding’s waistband, sources said. The confrontation was captured on police body-camera footage. The video has not been released by the department and will likely stay secret until prosecutors finish their investigation into whether the shooting was justified.
The two detectives from Miami-Dade’s robbery intervention unit have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard in police shootings. The names of the officers have yet to be released. The police shooting is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, while Miami homicide detectives are probing Woods’ murder.
Woods will be buried next week as relatives grapple with her violent death.
Her family had no idea that Spaulding did time for the 2004 murder but was aware that he had domestic strife in an earlier relationship. That tumult continued with Woods; the two lived together but had a stormy relationship, relatives said.
“They’ve been going through some issues,” said her brother, Clarence Woods, who is the director of Miami’s Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, a taxpayer-funded entity that battles slum and blight. He said of his sister: “She was a fun-loving person, all about family.”
Spaulding was first arrested for murder in 2004 after he was accused of stabbing Nathan Hampton, 64, to death inside his apartment. While awaiting trial in 2008, Spaulding claimed he was being harassed by jail officers because of his Muslim faith. He falsely claimed to be suicidal to get away from his guards but then was “tortured” in the psychiatric ward, Spaulding alleged in an unsuccessful federal lawsuit in which he represented himself.
At the murder trial, he also represented himself, bickering with an ex-girlfriend when she the took the stand as a key eyewitness putting him at the scene of the killing.
But the jury could not decide on a verdict. Unsure of whether the key witness would be found to testify again, prosecutors offered him a 10-year-plea for manslaughter, which he accepted.
Spaulding was released from prison in 2014. He didn’t stay out of trouble, immediately getting arrested again in Miami for stalking his ex-wife — whom he met while behind bars. At one point, according to court documents, he jumped on Molita Spaulding’s car while angrily demanding to know why he couldn’t go with her to church. He also threatened to kill her and was committed to a psychiatric ward against his will, according to a petition she filed in court.
During his time in jail on the domestic violence case, Spaulding continued to represent himself, proudly pointing out that he got a hung jury against a top prosecutor. He also flooded the court with hand-written motions. Ultimately, Spaulding was only convicted of possessing cocaine.
He later met Woods, a mother of two. The family was wary of Spaulding, who boasted about his legal skills. “He always acted like a jailhouse lawyer,” Clarence Woods said.
And like he did in jail, Spaulding had a flair for manipulation. Clarence Woods recalled that his sister wanted to throw him out of her house — until he faked a seizure.
In December, Spaulding was arrested for misdemeanor battery after police said the two got into a fight over money and he pushed her and smashed her face with an open palm. “I have no problem killing you ... I will kill you and kill myself afterward,” he allegedly told her, according to an arrest report.
Prosecutors, however, dropped the case. It was unclear why Wednesday but it is not unusual for victims in domestic violence cases to not want to seek press charges.
She returned to Spaulding. The drama continued on Memorial Day, when Spaulding wanted to go with Woods to a family cookout. She went without him.
By Sunday, police believe, Woods had been killed. Her son, worried about his mother because he hadn’t heard from her, broke into her Miami home and found her stabbed.
The Jeep, which belonged to Woods’ father, was missing. Police put out a countywide bulletin for the vehicle. Two days later, the detectives found the Jeep and shot him.