Alabama board denies parole for accused killer Jimmy O’Neal Spencer

  • Updated: Aug. 09, 2022, 11:48 a.m.|
  • Published: Aug. 09, 2022, 9:41 a.m.

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles today denied parole for Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, whose parole five years ago sparked outrage because he stands accused of robbing and killing two women and a child eight months after his release.

Attorney General Steve Marshall spoke to the three-member board this morning and urged them to reject another parole for Spencer, who is scheduled to go on trial for capital murder in October for the slayings in Guntersville four years ago.

“If there is ever an example of someone who does not need to be released again, it is Jimmy O’Neal Spencer,” Marshall said.

The attorney general, who is the former district attorney in Marshall County, said he knew well two of the victims Spencer is charged with killing.

None of the three board members — Chair Leigh Gwathney and associate members Dwayne Spurlock and Darryl Littleton — were on the board when Spencer was paroled in November 2017.

At this morning’s hearing, they heard from Marshall and a representative of the victims’ advocacy group VOCAL, then voted unanimously to deny parole for Spencer. No one spoke in support of Spencer’s parole. Spencer was not at the hearing because inmates do not attend parole hearings in Alabama.

Spencer is serving two life sentences for eight convictions going back to 1984, including three for burglary, three for escape, one for assault, and one for unlawful breaking and entering of a vehicle.

He was paroled in November 2017. He is charged with murdering Martha Dell Reliford, 65, Marie Kitchens Martin, 74, and Martin’s 7-year-old great-grandson, Colton Ryan Lee in Guntersville in July 2018.

Spencer’s murder charges following his parole led to reforms and changes in leadership at the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. Marshall and Gov. Kay Ivey advocated for the changes. The rate of paroles granted dropped sharply after the Spencer case.

“What I am grateful about is the fact that as a result of this case, we highlighted the fact that decisions you make should be based upon what is appropriate for community safety, for what is appropriate for releasing individuals in our society that can live there as productive citizens,” Marshall told the board.

“Jimmy Spencer was given that opportunity, wrongfully so. And almost within hours of that release ignored the rules established by this organization and decided to commit additional offenses, which should not be surprising to anybody that knew his record. As a result of that, three innocent people, two of which I personally knew well, lost their life.”

In a press release later this morning, Marshall said Alabama needs to change its laws so that a person with a criminal record like Spencer is not eligible for parole. The attorney general also mentioned the case of Austin Patrick Hall, who had a lengthy criminal record and is charged in the fatal shooting of Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson in June. Hall benefitted from Alabama’s correctional incentive time, or “good time” law, which allows some inmates reduce their time in prison. Marshall has called that law “ultra lenient.”

“(Spencer’s) case continues to highlight fatal flaws in Alabama’s criminal laws,” Marshall said. “Under no circumstance should a man serving two life sentences and awaiting trial on three capital-murder charges ever be eligible for parole.

“We must strengthen Alabama’s criminal laws, which—as cases like this and those of Austin Patrick Hall illustrate—are too promiscuous with regard to public safety. I plan to work with the Legislature to correct that, to the end of keeping violent criminals incarcerated and innocent citizens safe.”

Ivey wrote a letter to the board urging them to deny parole for Spencer.

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