WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Victims of violent crime want Alabama parole bill passed immediately

The state will pay the victims in the Mulberry Street murders $1 million.

Posted: May 24, 2019 3:24 PM
Updated: May 29, 2019 10:52 AM

The WAAY 31 I-Team learned on Friday that the state of Alabama settled with Jimmy Spencer's victims and paid them $1 million because of the parole board's failures that led to Spencer being paroled and not kept up with in the system.

Six months after Spencer was paroled, he was arrested for murdering 7-year-old Colton Lee, his great grandmother Marie Martin and Martin's neighbor, Martha Reliford. The murders happened in July of 2018 on Mulberry Street in Guntersville.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall released this statement on Friday after the settlement, "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.”

The WAAY 31 I-Team sat down with one of Spencer's first victims from Franklin County, who was not notified by the parole board about Spencer's 2017 parole hearing. This victim was notified in 2008 and 2013 about Spencer's parole hearing and contested it both times.

This victim wants to remain anonymous, because he still fears Jimmy Spencer could escape from prison.

"I am totally disgusted at the approach the parole board has had about this from the very onset," said Spencer's victim from Franklin County.

In 1989, this man shot Jimmy Spencer for breaking into his Franklin County home. The crime was supposed to send Spencer to prison for life, but he was let out of prison in January of 2018 and sent to a halfway house in Birmingham. Spencer was supposed to stay at the halfway house for six months but just walked away after only being there for a few weeks.

Spencer then made his way to Guntersville. He had several run-ins with police in Sand Mountain and was arrested by Sardis police for resisting arrest, attempting to elude and drug paraphernalia in June of 2018, but his parole officer never revoked his parole, according to documents obtained by the WAAY 31 I-Team.

Weeks after the Sardis arrest, Spencer was then arrested for the Mulberry Street murders. Now, the state is paying those victims $1 million.

"You can't put a monetary value on people's lives. That's insulting almost," said Spencer's Franklin County victim.

This victim told WAAY 31 what's more insulting is that the parole board and its leadership still claim they did nothing wrong, even though documents show Spencer was a violent man while in prison and his parole was never revoked.

"There is no way to justify the incompetence of the parole board. There is no way to justify it," the victim said.

After the WAAY 31 I-Team learned about the state's settlement with the Guntersville victims, we reached out to the parole board's chairperson, Lyn Head. She released the following 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."

Spencer's Franklin County victim had this to say about that statement:

"This is a maneuver of the parole board to save face." 

Tommy James, the attorney representing the Guntersville victims, 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.”

Changes to the parole board could be coming if the Senate passes the parole bill, which will give the governor more power over the board, stop early paroles and strengthen victim notification.

Spencer's victim said if the Senate doesn't pass the parole bill, failures will continue.

"You're looking at a repetition of this. There will be other criminals turned loose, and there will be another crime of this sort that will be occurring, and what are you going to do then? Say, 'I'm sorry. Here is another million.' We don't need that," said Spencer's Franklin County victim.

The parole bill will be in a Senate committee hearing next Tuesday and could possibly go to the Senate floor for a vote next week.

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