The State of Alabama will pay the maximum damages allowed under state law after the Board of Pardons and Paroles allegedly wrongfully paroled and failed to supervise a career criminal.
The state will pay the maximum possible settlement award, $1 million, to the families of Marie Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford — the three north Alabama victims Jimmy O’Neal Spencer has been charged with murdering after his release in late 2017.
Prior to his release and subsequent alleged murder spree, Spencer had lived a life of crime stretching across three decades, beginning in 1984 at the age of 19. He was convicted and imprisoned for numerous serious property and violent crimes, as well as for numerous disciplinary infractions in prison and for several successful escapes from prison.
On two separate occasions, Spencer was sentenced to life imprisonment. In one memorable case, he attempted to burglarize an occupied home and, refusing to retreat, had to be shot by the homeowner.
Despite all of this, Spencer was granted parole by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on November 2, 2017.
Spencer was at that time released to a homeless shelter in Birmingham where he was supposed to remain for six months. However, after only three weeks, he left.
Spencer then traveled to Guntersville, where he had several run-ins with law enforcement and was charged for multiple violations of the law, including: traffic offenses, possession of drug paraphernalia, attempting to elude police, resisting arrest and illegal possession of a firearm.
Nonetheless, his parole was not revoked — which seemingly led to three innocent lives being taken.
Less than six months after being released, in July 2018, Spencer allegedly murdered Reliford through blunt-force trauma to her head. Her body was discovered only after the bodies of Martin and her seven-year-old grandson, Lee, were found in a nearby home. They also had been brutally murdered.
Spencer was charged in the three deaths with capital murder in August 2018. He is currently awaiting trial in the Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery. The attorney general’s office noted that defendants in criminal cases are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Attorney General Marshall recused himself and was not a part of the settlement negotiations, having previously known two of the victims. He released a statement after the settlement was finalized.
Marshall said, “Marie Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford died horrifically and senselessly at the hands of a monster—Jimmy O’Neal Spencer.”
“Ms. Reliford and Mrs. Martin, whom I knew personally, have been on my mind since July,” the attorney general continued. “Every time I think of what they suffered through, I get angry. I am angry, certainly at Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, but I am also angry that a process designed to protect the public from deviant criminals like Spencer utterly failed them, as well as little Colton.”
The settlement comes as crucial legislation is pending in the Alabama Legislature to reform the Board of Pardons and Paroles to ensure this type of avoidable case never happens again.
That legislation sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), HB 380, has passed the House but is yet to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislature is expected to wrap up its 2019 regular session next week.
Marshall’s office crafted the bill and has been a vocal advocate for its passage, as has Governor Kay Ivey.
“Sadly, we know that these victims aren’t the only ones that have been failed by our broken system of pardons and paroles, and that is why I continue to advocate for much-needed legislative reforms,” Marshall concluded.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn