I-Team: Is an Alabama law change responsible for letting an accused killer out of jail?

Jimmy O'Neal Spencer's 2017 mugshot from the Alabama Department of Corrections.

WAAY 31 is digging into a law change that may be responsible for a man getting out of jail before he allegedly killed three people

Posted: Aug 2, 2018 5:57 PM
Updated: Oct 26, 2018 3:48 PM

WAAY 31 dug into a change in Alabama law that one district attorney thinks led to accused killer Jimmy Spencer being paroled- despite his life sentence and very long wrap sheet of violent offenses.

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing told WAAY 31 Jimmy Spencer received a life sentence for his crimes and he should have never been let out of prison.

DA Rushing told us “this is one of the worst things that could happen. This is a tragedy of the parole board that this individual was let out.”

The Franklin County DA said he knows all too well about Jimmy Spencer’s violent past in the county. In a parole board letter, Chairman Cliff Walker and former parole board member Terry Davis signed off on Jimmy Spencer being paroled. They marked the boxes saying he had a positive conduct record, which is not completely accurate.

Rushing told WAAY 31 “he did escape while in prison as well as the fact that he was convicted of an assault while he was in prison had to be, should have been a part of his file because those occurred while he was in prison how on earth did they mark those boxes being applicable in this case is beyond me.”

Parole board members also marked the boxes calling him a low to medium risk of reoffending. Rushing told us he can't understand that part either because Spencer was already a convicted career criminal saying “when they are given a life sentence that is not a normal sentence in our court system being here on a regular basis i can tell you not a lot of people get life sentences. if you get someone with a life sentence that usually means the prosecutor and detectives and the police think they are the worst of the worst.”

In 2015, Rushing told WAAY 31 the state changed how the board of pardons and paroles works in Alabama. He said “the new law that went into effect basically provides them a checklist and they go down the checklist they have a lot less discretion on who they let out.”

Under the justice revisement act of 2015, board members use analytics to predict a prisoner's chances of reoffending, using data rather than their own judgement.

Franklin County DA Rushing told us “it does emphasize and attempt to make it a lot easier for people to get paroled in these situations and to get more people out of prison. To me that's a dangerous thing. You have to give people on the parole board discretion.”

Spencer now stands accused of murdering three people in Guntersville only months after he was paroled and was known to have a violent history, yet the parole board said his chances of reoffending again were low.

Rushing told us “The parole board does care. I am not saying they don't but they are restricted by that same law that created this that caused Mr. Spencer to be out and they need to change it back right now before we have more deaths.”

DA Rushing also told WAAY 31 when Spencer came up for parole his office was never notified. He told us that doesn't mean the parole board did send him a letter and it possibly got lost in the mail, but he says if he would have known Spencer was coming up for parole again would have written another letter urging them to keep him in prison like he did in 2013.

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