$1 million settlement announced for families of Guntersville murder victims

$1 million settlement announced for families of Guntersville murder victims
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said his goal with the lawsuit is not to deport anyone, just to follow the rule of the law.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The State of Alabama will pay $1 million to the families of three murder victim’s allegedly killed by Jimmy O’Neal Spencer.

Spencer was granted parole in 2017 despite having a long record of violent crimes and prison escapes. He was later arrested and charged in 2018 for the murders of three people in Guntersville.

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced the settlement on Friday. Marshall says $1 million is the maximum damages that can be awarded under state law. The settlement comes after the families of Maire Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford argued the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles should have never paroled Spencer and failed to provide proper supervision.

“Now that this settlement has been reached, the families of these innocent victims can focus on the criminal case against Jimmy O’Neal Spencer. They are praying for swift and severe justice,” Tommy James, Family attorney said.

Colton Ryan Lee and Marie Kitchens Martin (Source: The Advertiser-Gleam)
Colton Ryan Lee and Marie Kitchens Martin (Source: The Advertiser-Gleam)
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)

“It is a shame that the law in Alabama only allows this amount for these families after what happened to their loved ones. The law should be changed so that victims are better protected.”

Attorney General Marshall recused himself and was not a part of the settlement negotiations, having previously known two of the victims.

“Marie Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford died horrifically and senselessly at the hands of a monster—Jimmy O’Neal Spencer," said Marshall. “Ms. Reliford and Mrs. Martin, whom I knew personally, have been on my mind since July. 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. 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.”

(Source: Guntersville Police Department)

Spencer was granted parole in November of 2017 and released from prison in January, 2018. 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, authorities say there was no space at Life Tech. Instead, 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.

Months later Martha Dell Reliford, 65, Marie Kitchens Martin, 74, and Martin’s great-grandson, Colton Ryan Lee, 7, were found murdered.

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

Spencer is currently awaiting trial in the Kilby Correction Facility in Montgomery.

James said that his clients are still struggling with the loss of their loves ones. “My clients are still devastated over their loss. They are extremely grateful for the tremendous amount of support that they have received from citizens throughout the State and ask for continued thoughts and prayers.”

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