I-Team: Man charged in Guntersville murders has extensive criminal past

'It enrages me that he was out,' said one prosecutor who knows Jimmy O'Neal Spencer's violent past.

Posted: Jul 18, 2018 4:45 PM
Updated: Oct 26, 2018 3:46 PM

The man charged with killing three people in Guntersville last week spent most of his adult life behind bars before being released earlier this year, authorities said.

Jimmy O'Neal Spencer, 52, is in the Marshall County Jail without bond on four counts of capital murder.

Spencer is accused of killing Martha Dell Reliford, 65, Marie Kitchens Martin, 74, and Martin's great-grandson Colton Ryan Lee, 7. Their bodies were found in two different homes on Mulberry Street Friday night.

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said he was sickened when he heard Spencer's name in connection with the murders. Spencer has a long rap sheet in his county.

"The name immediately struck a chord," Rushing said. "I was like 'I wrote a letter on him and he shouldn't be out.' I was mad all over again that a small child is a victim of somebody who should still be in prison and still serving his life sentence."

Spencer first went to prison in July 1984, when he was sentenced to a year for third-degree burglary in Franklin County, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. An additional 10 years was tacked onto his sentence for a prison escape in September of that year, officials said. He received another 10 years for a second escape conviction in May 1985.

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Spencer was paroled in July 1988, but he was then arrested for second-degree burglary in Franklin County in January 1989. After a conviction, a judge sentenced him to life, Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said.

"The only way they could get him to stop breaking in was to shoot him," Rushing said. "So that is obviously a very serious offense, and there was a lot of violence in that offense."

Spencer escaped from prison again in March 1993 and was caught two months later. He was charged and convicted of breaking and entering a vehicle and third-degree burglary during his escape and had two more 16-year sentences added to the life sentence.

Corrections officials said Spencer had 15 more years of prison time added for assaulting an inmate. 

Spencer was released from prison on Jan. 22, 2018. Rushing said both he and one of Spencer's burglary victims in Franklin County wrote letters to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that he be kept in prison back in 2013. 

"In my letter I even referred to him as the type of person that doesn't need parole, because I would think of him as a violent person and somebody who has a number of prior felonies that would not be a good risk to let out on the parole system," Rushing said.

Rushing said he hopes it anything can be learned from the case, it's that people who have violent pasts like Jimmy Spencer should not be let out of prison. He said he hopes the state parole board will look more closely at who's being let back into the community.

"It enrages me that he was out," he said.

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