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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

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