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We're waiting to see when the next steps will be taken in a bill that will transform Alabama's parole board.
The Parole bill (HB380) passed the House Thursday afternoon in a marathon session. The governor and attorney general pushed for change, after the WAAY 31 I-Team uncovered serious flaws in the parole system.
It's now up to Senator Cam Ward (R) to carry the parole bill through the Senate. On Friday, Ward said the bill will likely be on the calendar within the next two weeks. Ward expects some opposition but believes he can carry it to passage.
Victims' families said they were happy to see the bill pass the House.
"We're ecstatic. I was literally doing a happy dance in here," said Tonia Hutto Bass.
Bass commended Representative Connie Rowe (R) for standing six hours on the Alabama State House floor defending the parole bill and bringing it to passage.
"This is something we have fought for, for so long," said Bass.
The bill would directly affect Bass. Bryan Hutto, Bass's brother, was murdered in Limestone County in 2010. Her brother's killer is serving a life sentence. The WAAY 31 I-Team began investigating and talking with Bass when the killer came up for an early parole hearing in 2018, after only serving six years.
"I did not expect it for what we thought would be 10 to 20 years," said Bass, when they got word about the early parole hearing for her brother's killer. "It enraged me. I have wrote so many letters, and I have fought this so hard and I will keep fighting it."
The day before Bass and her family made the four-hour drive to Montgomery to contest the killer's parole, the hearing was abruptly cancelled, along with dozens of other early parole hearings for violent inmates.
"If they do this to one, they will do it to plenty. They were going to release over 100 violent criminals that day, that we were set to go before the parole board to keep the murderer in jail. That's appalling," said Bass.
The parole bill would stop early parole hearings, strengthen victim notification and give the governor more power over the parole board, something Democrats in the House fiercely contested.
"We're allowing the governor's office, at this point, to deal with pardons and paroles in a manner we haven't seen before," said Alabama Representative, Napoleon Bracy Jr. (D), as he contested the parole bill on the House floor Thursday.
House Democrats aren't the only ones fighting the bill. Emails obtained by the WAAY 31 I-Team show the parole board's executive leadership, dispute the attorney general's claim that the system is broken. One email directed employees to contest the bills, on the taxpayer's dime. Bass said the parole board needs more oversight.
"I don't think that's too much power. I think that has been needed. It's well overdue, because they have no one they are accountable to, and it's obvious in their emails how they feel they have done no wrong, so it's time to be harsh. It's time to stand up for the victims," said Bass.
Bass and other victims' families told the WAAY 31 I-Team they will be calling their Senators and asking them to get the parole bill on the calendar and vote "yes." Right now, lawmakers are only meeting three days a week, so it's a matter of time to see when the parole bill will be heard in the Senate.
The WAAY 31 I-Team investigation into the parole board began after a horrific murder of three innocent people in Guntersville. Colton Lee, 7, his great grandmother, Marie Martin and their neighbor across the street, Martha Reliford, were murdered at their homes on Mulberry Street in Guntersville last July.
A few days later, Jimmy Spencer was arrested and charged in their murders. We began digging into the parole board's policies and discovered a series of failures that led to Spencer, a violent man, being released and not kept up with.
Jimmy Spencer was supposed to be serving a life sentence. Documents obtained by the WAAY 31 I-Team show Spencer remained a violent man while in prison, with some 50 disciplinary reports. Spencer's original victim, nor the Franklin County District Attorney, were notified about his 2017 parole hearing, which is illegal. Yet, he was still paroled in January 2018. The board sent him to a halfway house, but he walked away from there in February 2018.
Spencer's parole officer failed to keep up with him, and said in his own documents that Spencer was reporting to him like normal, and he did not know he walked away from the halfway house. Then, Spencer was arrested on drug charges and got into a scuffle with Sardis police in June 2018. Those charges should have been a violation of his parole, but, again, the system failed.
One month later, Spencer was arrested for the Mulberry Street murders. Spencer is currently in Kilby Correctional Facility waiting on his trial for the murders.