New bill in the works after Guntersville triple murder

Victim advocates push for change in effort to prevent other tragedies
(Source: Guntersville Police Department)
Updated: Oct. 4, 2018 at 7:10 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WAFF) - Alabama victim advocates are calling out the Board of Pardons and Paroles in the case of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, the man accused of killing three people in Guntersville.

The crimes happened after Spencer was released early from prison- what some say has become a frightening trend in the state.

[READ MORE: Arrest made in Guntersville triple murder]

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles released nearly 200 inmates in September alone, some considered violent offenders sentenced to life in prison.

Now, a statewide group is working to make sure alerts go out when someone like Jimmy O'Neal Spencer drops off the radar.

Janette Grantham wants to see a process in place in Alabama when people like Jimmy O'Neal Spencer are paroled. “He was listed as low to medium risk of re-offending,” she said. Grantham is the State Director of Victims of Crime and Leniency, or V.O.C.A.L., and she's been very vocal about the Spencer case. “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong with this,” she stated.

Spencer was granted parole in November of last year and released from prison in January. Upon his release from prison, he was scheduled to report to Life Tech a program run by the Pardons and Paroles Board. But, with the Department of Corrections downsizing facilities and closing some, authorities say there was no space at Life Tech. Spencer ended up at a halfway house. He was there only two weeks when he apparently stopped abiding by the rules and walked away. The shelter says they contacted Spencer’s parole officer, but didn’t hear back.

He was in the wind for months before reportedly murdering Martha Dell Reliford, 65, Marie Kitchens Martin, 74, and Martin's great-grandson, Colton Ryan Lee, 7.

Grantham says the board never put out an alert or warrant for Spencer.

"He came in contact with the law two separate times. Law enforcement say they notified the parole board. He was actually in court in Marshall County that morning. They contacted the Parole Board and by someone was told no comment. That day they found the three bodies, including the little 7 year old boy If he had been kept that morning he wouldn’t have killed them that day,” Grantham said.

Board Executive Director Eddie Cook addressed the case, saying: “This incident is a conscious choice that was made by this parolee, Spencer. He made this choice. The Board didn’t do anything wrong in the parole, the police didn’t do anything wrong...this is a conscience decision he made.” He says the board is using a new assessment tool- a checklist to determine why they feel an inmate should be paroled or why they should be denied.

(Source: WAFF)

Cook says the parole board is better equipped to evaluate the release of inmates. For the first time, they are using a new assessment tool- a checklist to determine why they feel an inmate should be paroled or why they should be denied. But he says even with the best assessments, there are no guarantees.

"And any state that has a parole board from time to will have a case like this because the parole board don't control this it's the individual choice of the person being paroled. who decides to do these acts,” Cook added.

Grantham, meanwhile, is drafting a bill that would require the board to instantly notify law enforcement and the public of a parolee’s disappearance.

(Source: WAFF)

“If we had that law then, those people would be alive today. We have to protect our victims. We should have protected 7-year-old Colton Lee, but we didn’t,” she said. Authorities say Spencer hit Reliford in the head with a hatchet and strangled her. Reliford was a member of VOCAL who lost both her siblings to murder.

“She had a brother that was murdered and she was faithful to come to the parole board and protest his offender’s release,” Grantham stated. “She had a sister who was murdered, and she fought hard to get [the offender] convicted. They wanted him to take a plea, and she wouldn’t have it.”

Investigators believe after Spencer killed Reliford, he then strangled Martin, her great-grandson Colton Lee was killed by blunt force.

Grantham says she has the family’s blessing and plans to name the bill after the young murder victim, titled “Colton’s Law."

“We need to not forget that little boy had nothing to do with any of this,” she said.

The bill is in the early stages, but is expected to be taken up in the next legislative session.

Governor Kay Ivey’s office says she shares the concerns over the Board of Pardons and Paroles and is monitoring their actions. She plans to meet with them in the near future.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles released this statement:

“The Agency’s position is we do not have data showing a dramatic increase in violent inmates being considered for parole prior to their original set date. If such data exists from another entity, we would be happy to analyze their numbers. There have been no procedure changes that would generate an increase in cases considered fitting your description.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall says Spencer was improperly categorized as a "non-victim" offender. As a result, his Office of Victim Assistance was not alerted to his violent past.

“This case also raises concerns with the Parole Board’s risk assessment procedures and whether the implementation of this process is failing the public. The Attorney General grieves the loss of life and is working with prosecutors and law enforcement from around the state on a solution to the issues raised in this case,” his office said in a statement.

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