WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Alabama to pay $1 million to families of Jimmy Spencer murder case victims

The families allege that the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles wrongfully paroled and failed to supervise Spencer, resulting in the deaths of Marie Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford.

Posted: May 24, 2019 9:42 AM
Updated: May 4, 2021 11:47 AM

The office of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued this press release Friday:

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that the State of Alabama will pay the maximum damages that may be awarded under state law — $1 million — to the families of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer’s three alleged murder victims.

Jimmy Spencer

The families allege that the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles wrongfully paroled and failed to supervise Spencer, resulting in the deaths of Marie Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford.

Attorney General Marshall recused himself and was not a part of the settlement negotiations, having previously known two of the victims.

In another press release, Birmingham attorney Tommy James, who represents the families of Lee, Martin and Reliford, said the settlement was agreed to prior to lawsuits being filed.

“I can confirm that my clients and the State have entered into a settlement. As stated in the Attorney General’s press release, the State has agreed to pay the maximum amount available under current law,” James said. “It is a shame that the law in Alabama only allows this amount for these families after what happened to their loved ones. The law needs to be changed so that victims are better protected.

“Now that this settlement has been reached, the families of these innocent victims can focus on the criminal case against Jimmy O’Neal Spencer. They are praying for swift and severe justice,” James said.

James said that his clients are still struggling with the loss of their loved ones.

“It hasn’t even been a year since these senseless murders took place,” James said. “My clients are still devastated over their loss. They are extremely grateful for the tremendous amount of support that they have received from citizens throughout the State and ask for continued thoughts and prayers.”

Marshall’s press release goes on to say:

Prior to his release and subsequent murder spree, Spencer had lived a life of crime stretching across three decades, beginning in 1984 at the age of 19. Spencer was a career criminal convicted and imprisoned for numerous serious property and violent crimes, as well as for numerous disciplinary infractions in prison and for several successful escapes from prison. On two separate occasions, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In one case, Spencer attempted to burglarize an occupied home and, refusing to retreat, had to be shot by the homeowner.

Despite all of this, Spencer was granted parole on November 2, 2017. Spencer was released to a homeless shelter in Birmingham where he was supposed to remain for six months; yet, after only three weeks, he left. Spencer traveled to Guntersville, Alabama, where he had several run-ins with law enforcement and was charged for multiple violations of the law, including: traffic offenses, possession of drug paraphernalia, attempting to elude police, resisting arrest, and illegal possession of a firearm. Nonetheless, his parole was not revoked.

Less than six months after being released, in July of 2018, Spencer allegedly murdered Martha Reliford through blunt-force trauma to her head. Ms. Reliford’s body was discovered only after the bodies of Marie Martin and her seven-year-old grandson, Colton Lee, were found in a nearby home. They also had been brutally murdered.

Speaking after the settlement was finalized, Attorney General Marshall said, “Marie Martin, Colton Lee and Martha Reliford died horrifically and senselessly at the hands of a monster—Jimmy O’Neal Spencer.”

Marshall continued, “Ms. Reliford and Mrs. Martin, whom I knew personally, have been on my mind since July. Every time I think of what they suffered through, I get angry. I am angry, certainly at Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, but I am also angry that a process designed to protect the public from deviant criminals like Spencer utterly failed them, as well as little Colton. Sadly, we know that these victims aren’t the only ones that have been failed by our broken system of pardons and paroles, and that is why I continue to advocate for much-needed legislative reforms.”

Later Friday, Lyn Head, chairman of Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles, issued this statement:

"Our hearts and prayers remain with the families and friends of Mrs. Reliford, Mrs. Martin, and Colton Lee. We entered a confidentiality agreement with the representatives of their families, and we intend to respect it, and we understand that they do as well. We are thankful to have been able to resolve this matter without the need for litigation and hope that this resolution can somehow lead to healing. In addition, our agency is working diligently to improve in all of the areas of concern that our governor pointed out in her Executive Order in October. Specific details of these efforts have been outlined in corrective action plans and monthly progress reports to Governor Ivey, which have been made available to the media."

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