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State’s board of pardons and paroles admits ‘A Fault in the System’ when they lost track of Guntersville triple murder suspect

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. - A triple murder in Guntersville shocked the quaint town. These were the first killings in nearly a decade. The victims are  Marie Martin, 74, Colton Lee, 7, and Martha Reliford, 65.

Police accuse Jimmy O'Neal Spencer, former state parolee, of the crimes. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, the people who made the decision to release Spencer from prison early, confirmed to WHNT News 19 they lost track of Spencer soon after.

The board paroled Spencer to the Jimmy Hale Mission in Birmingham in January. He should have stayed there for around six months, but he left within three weeks.

"Anybody that we supervise, there's mandated contacts that we're supposed to make," Darrell Morgan, board's assistant executive director, said. "Those contacts are home visits, employment checks, things along those lines."

WHNT News 19 went to Montgomery to speak face-to-face with Morgan and ask him when the board knew Spencer left.

"Whenever he got arrested in Guntersville," Morgan admitted. "That's when it became the realization that he is not living at the halfway house. That is when it came to our attention."

Before Spencer's parole was granted, the board would have had access to all of his file from his nearly three decades in prison. That case file included prison escapes, prison assault, and burglary convictions. One of the attempted burglaries resulted in him getting shot.

"That information is available to the board," Morgan confirmed.

WHNT News 19 asked Morgan why the board members decided to parole Spencer.

"I can't tell you what goes on in a board member's mind," Morgan said, in general, about parole considerations. "They're given the information, they're presented the information. If they didn't have other issues over the past dozen or so years, a lot of times the board will give them the benefit of the doubt."

Morgan explained Spencer was checking in with his parole office, he just wasn't telling the truth.

"He was still reporting. He was still listing the address, so we thought he was still where he was," Morgan admitted.

Morgan said the communication between Spencer and the probation officer is the only thing that was keeping Spencer on track.

"The dialogue that the parolee was doing with the officer didn't raise any questions at the time," Morgan said.

Spencer came out of prison with multiple burglary and escape convictions. Authorities said he used his freedom to get into more trouble. A drug-related arrest in Etowah County, a run-in with police at the Guntersville State Park. Still, the board didn't realize he wasn't at a halfway house in Birmingham.

"Cases do go wrong, people do get hurt," Morgan said. "You especially don't want anybody that you're supervising you know, do a crime like this."

The board came under significant pressure in the wake of this case. They told WHNT News 19 they changed a portion of their notification process, the portion that broke down in the Spencer case.

Now, the board is sending notifications to the victims of most burglaries before the inmate is up for parole.