Death penalty sought for man accused of killing 3 people in Guntersville

Death penalty sought for man accused of killing 3 people in Guntersville
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 9:00 AM CDT

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - After four years, the trial of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer is set to begin on Monday in Marshall County.

Spencer is accused of killing three people in Guntersville in 2018. Police believe he killed 74-year-old Marie Kitchens Martin and her 7-year-old great-grandson, Colton Ryan Lee, as well as their neighbor 65-year-old Martha Reliford.

He is facing seven capital murder charges for their deaths.

  • Three counts of murder
  • One count of killing multiple people
  • One count of killing a person under 14 years of age
  • Two counts of robbery

A judge has allowed the prosecution to continue to seek the death penalty despite an expert witness telling the court Spencer has an IQ of 56.

Spencer’s case sent shockwaves through the state and made a huge impact on the Alabama incarceration system. He was serving time in prison when he was let out on parole in 2017. He was supposed to report to the Pardons and Paroles Board’s Life Tech program after his release but he was sent to a halfway house instead.

Authorities say there was no space at the Tech program because of downsizing.

Spencer was required to stay at the halfway house for months but he left after two weeks. The shelter tried to contact his parole officer but they never heard back. Months later, police say Spencer killed Reliford, Martin, and Lee.

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting

Many people blamed the parole system for letting him out of prison so Alabama Governor Kay Ivey shook up the parole board. Her administration passed several reforms and changed the parole board’s leadership.

Following his case, paroles were denied left and right. The rate skyrocketed and continues to increase. According to the ACLU, 84% of parole applications in Alabama were denied in 2021. That’s up from a 46% denial rate in 2017. The group says at least one-third of those parole denials were against people who met the guidelines set by the state.

This is one of the key complaints that led to a statewide strike among prisoners.

After Spencer was arrested, he was sent back to prison for violating parole in 2018.

Jury selection for Spencer’s trial begins at 9 a.m. on Oct. 17 at the Marshall County Courthouse.