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Tampa teen arrested in hate crime shooting

Tavares Spencer, 16, faces charges in the April incident.
Tavares Spencer, 16, faces charges in the April incident.
Published May 31, 2013

TAMPA — A 16-year-old has been charged with a hate crime after shooting a man because he was a cross-dresser, Tampa police say.

On April 9, Terrience McDonald, 22, agreed to meet with a teenager he knew only as "Vares." He had met Vares a week before at a party, and the two had agreed to meet up again.

At the teenager's request, McDonald met him at 5014 N Winnie St. in Tampa, a house police said was vacant at the time.

McDonald, a man who dresses as a woman, felt uncomfortable and tried to leave when Vares, now identified as Tavares Spencer, 16, pulled out a gun and ordered him to the ground, police said Thursday at a news conference. Spencer then shot McDonald in the upper body.

McDonald pretended like he was dead but as Spencer walked away, he got up and ran. Spencer saw him running and fired again, police said, but did not hit McDonald. Spencer also stole McDonald's purse and cellphone.

Soon after the shooting, Spencer bragged in text messages about the incident, using graphic language to describe McDonald's sexual orientation. Police say that led to Spencer being charged Wednesday with a hate crime. Police also charged him with attempted murder, robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Retrieving cellphone records from a private carrier delayed the investigation for more than a month, Sgt. Michael Stout said Thursday.

Spencer was already in custody for an unrelated robbery charge when McDonald identified his attacker in a packet of photos, police said.

Although he is a minor, Spencer will be tried as an adult.

Spencer's lack of remorse surprised detectives, Stout said. The teenager has been arrested 12 times since 2009 on charges ranging from possession of cocaine to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, records show.

He remained in the Hillsborough County jail on Thursday without bail.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Charles Scudder can be reached at cscudder@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3111.

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