WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Governor shakes up parole board as anniversary of Guntersville murders nears

This change is happening after a law was passed giving the governor more power over the parole board.

Posted: Jul 12, 2019 3:19 PM
Updated: Jul 23, 2019 7:24 PM

Governor Kay Ivey is shaking up the state's parole board on the eve of one of North Alabama's most horrific crimes.

On Friday, Ivey announced Judge Charles Graddick will take Eddie Cook's spot effective September 1st as the director of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. This change is happening after a law was passed giving the governor more power over the parole board.

WAAY 31 asked Ivey's office if this meant Cook will be without a job. The office told us to reach out to Cook himself. We did but have not heard back from him nor the spokesperson for the parole board.

Graddick became one of the state's youngest district attorneys in history, taking office when he was just 28. He also served two terms as attorney general.

"I am proud to have someone of Judge Graddick’s experience and caliber at the helm of this board. Public safety is paramount,” Ivey said in a statement.

The case that sparked all of this change happened in Guntersville where a parolee, Jimmy Spencer, is accused of murdering three people.

On July 13, 2018, the bodies of seven-year-old Colton Lee, his great grandmother, Marie Martin, and their neighbor across the street, Martha Reliford, were discovered on Mulberry Street in Guntersville. The slayings sent shock waves throughout the community and state.

On Friday, the same day of Ivey's announcement and just one day before the anniversary of the crimes, the WAAY 31 I-Team spoke with Martha Reliford's family. Her sisters, Nellie Wray and Patsy Humpheries, met us outside of Martha's home on Mulberry Street. They were overcome with emotions as it was their first time to be back at the house since the horrific murders took place.

"I'll never get over this. It hurts bad. I want to see her walk out that door and I know she's not," said Martha Reliford's sister, Nellie Wray.

Wray and Humpheries told WAAY 31 Martha would do anything to help anyone, but the last year of her life was spent battling cancer and going to doctor appointments. Humpheries said it was hard to watch her sister go through cancer treatments, but it was harder knowing how her life ended at the hands of accused killer, Jimmy Spencer.

"It hurts knowing a monster went in and killed her in bed like that," said Humpheries.

While that monster, Jimmy Spencer, is behind bars for the murders, this family has spent the last year missing their sister.

"I love her and I miss her," said Wray.

Martha's life isn't the only one Spencer is accused of taking. Investigators believe after he killed her, he went across the street and killed Colton Lee and Marie Martin.

"Everyday I think of him and his grandmother, too. I do just like I knew them and I hadn't seen them and really didn't know them, but just in your heart, you can't get it out," said Humpheries.

A crime shook this community and these families, but evil cannot shake their faith.

"If it wasn't for the good Lord, I wouldn't be here because I pray every night, every night I do," said Humpheries.

We broke the news to the Humpheries and Wray families that Governor Ivey announced appointing Judge Graddick to be the next parole board director. Both sisters said, "We are very thankful for Kay Ivey. I'll never forget what she's done."

The WAAY 31 I-Team uncovered flaw after flaw that led to Jimmy Spencer being paroled, despite the fact that the board knew he was a violent man, even while in prison. His parole officer never kept up with him and he was even arrested on serious drug charges weeks prior to the murders of Martha, Marie and Colton, but his parole never revoked.

A flawed system led to endless pain for two families.

"I can't understand why they would do anything like that and let somebody out on the street that they knew all he had done and us suffer everyday," said Wray.

The WAAY 31 I-Team filed numerous open records requests in this case. We were able to prove the board never notified Spencer's previous victim about his parole hearing, which was a violation of its policies and procedures.

That victim didn't know Spencer was up for parole, and couldn't ask the board to keep him in prison, so it released him. They said he had a good conduct record while in prison, despite the fact that he had some 50 disciplinary reports.

The board also sent him to an unsecured halfway house in Birmingham that he easily walked away from and tricked his parole officer into thinking he was still there. He then made his way to Guntersville and was written citations in a state park.

In June of 2018, Spencer was arrested by Sardis police on drug charges and attempting to elude. Police notified his parole officer about his drug arrest, but the parole officer never revoked his parole and local officials had to let him go.

Weeks later, Spencer was arrested for the Mulberry Street murders. WAAY 31 called the offices for the governor and attorney general for months, looking for answers. We finally got a break when they told us Spencer was mislabeled in the parole system as a non-victim offender.

Then, the governor and attorney general told the board to get its act together, hitting it with a moratorium that halted early paroles in October. Attorney General Steve Marshall championed new legislation that will hold the parole board more accountable. That bill was passed by the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives in the 2019 legislative session. It goes into effect September 1st.

Currently, Jimmy Spencer is sitting in an Alabama prison awaiting his trial for the murders.

Attorney General Steve Marshall's office released this statement on Friday:

“Today marks a tragic anniversary. One year ago, Marie Martin and her seven-year-old grandson, Colton, were murdered in their home. In the house across the street, Martha Reliford was found dead, the same horrible fate having befallen her ten days earlier. All were innocent victims, murdered by a man who had no business being anywhere but behind bars. Yet he had been let loose into society, whereupon he immediately and predictably returned to the life of crime that he had lived since he was a teenager, culminating in three brutal murders. His release from prison was an unconscionable failure of our justice system—and one that we cannot ever allow to happen again. Alabama mourns with the loved ones of Marie, Colton, and Martha. For lives lost, there is no recompense. We can only offer our resolve to fix the system that failed them. In that effort, they remain with us, in our hearts and in our minds.” – Attorney General Steve Marshall

Huntsville/Redstone
Partly Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 55°
Muscle Shoals
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 57°
Huntsville/Madison
Partly Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 53°
Decatur
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 53°
Fort Payne
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 49°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518899

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753641487
Mobile37763798
Madison33859494
Tuscaloosa25266443
Montgomery23962565
Shelby23106238
Baldwin20631300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14284311
Morgan14139268
Etowah13662345
Marshall11957219
Houston10380278
Elmore9993200
Limestone9811147
Cullman9470188
St. Clair9426234
Lauderdale9215227
DeKalb8746181
Talladega8058171
Walker7087275
Jackson6754110
Autauga6723103
Blount6483135
Colbert6203130
Coffee5399112
Dale4767110
Russell428838
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia387674
Dallas3527149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256258
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218775
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171440
Washington164038
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 822085

Reported Deaths: 12001
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby914971575
Davidson86563918
Knox48960619
Hamilton42811480
Rutherford41428415
Williamson26942213
Sumner22909338
Montgomery18780223
Out of TN17852101
Wilson17747223
Unassigned16441132
Sullivan15781283
Blount14839194
Bradley14284147
Washington13850240
Sevier12986174
Maury12901166
Putnam11072173
Madison10628240
Robertson9486127
Anderson8539171
Hamblen8409169
Greene7645151
Tipton7171104
Coffee6782121
Dickson6643108
Cumberland6461127
Gibson6355144
Bedford6350126
Carter6332156
McMinn625595
Roane6124101
Jefferson6008121
Loudon595869
Lawrence573186
Hawkins5682105
Monroe564395
Warren549481
Dyer5340104
Franklin504987
Fayette484578
Obion447196
Cocke439598
Cheatham436551
Rhea428075
Lincoln427963
Marshall407358
Campbell405462
Weakley398761
Giles391298
Henderson368375
Carroll355582
Macon354375
White351468
Hardin346166
Hardeman345063
Lauderdale312744
Henry309775
Marion307246
Scott303145
Claiborne302373
Overton294360
Wayne294134
Hickman278345
McNairy275354
DeKalb273953
Smith271737
Haywood267660
Grainger255449
Trousdale247822
Morgan242839
Fentress236346
Johnson226738
Chester208651
Bledsoe208211
Crockett199848
Polk196024
Unicoi191149
Cannon187531
Union184034
Grundy176431
Lake169526
Humphreys168721
Sequatchie165228
Benton160940
Decatur156438
Lewis154826
Meigs132123
Stewart129328
Jackson129235
Clay108331
Houston107333
Perry105628
Moore99217
Van Buren82621
Pickett75524
Hancock53612

Community Events