Lawyer for Guntersville murder victims’ families pushes state officials, parole board to abide by their own laws

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – The attorney representing the families of the victims from the Guntersville triple murder is calling on state officials and the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to make changes to the parole system. Those victims are Marie Martin, 74, Colton Lee, 7, and Martha Reliford, 65.

Birmingham-based attorney Tommy James said he is meeting Friday morning with Bryan Taylor, general counsel with the governor’s office and Clay Crenshaw, chief deputy for the attorney general’s office.

This news comes after WHNT News 19 proved the parole board lost track of suspect and state parolee Jimmy O’Neal Spencer before he was charged in the Guntersville case.

“Today, I wrote a letter to the Governor and the Attorney General asking that I be able to attend their meeting with Pardons and Paroles next week to give my clients’ unique perspective to the ongoing problems,” James said in an email on Tuesday. “My clients have been directly impacted by the incompetence of the Department of Corrections and the Parole Board and this warrants that they be represented at this meeting.”

You can read James’ letter to state officials here.

James said he wants to go to the October 15 meeting and bring attention to the case against Spencer. James said he does not feel the board is reviewing every inmate’s entire file before paroling them. He said otherwise, he does not feel Spencer would have been released from prison early instead of serving his life sentence.

Governor Ivey’s Office responded to James’ letter on Wednesday. The governor’s press office provided WHNT News 19 a statement.

“We responded to Mr. James on Wednesday. The Governor’s General Counsel will be meeting with him prior to the Governor’s meeting with the members of the Pardons and Paroles Board. Governor Ivey wants to hear the concerns of the families prior to her meeting. Governor Ivey has some serious concerns about the situation at the Board of Pardons and Paroles. She has already met with members of VOCAL to hear their concerns. She and the Attorney General will be meeting with members of the Board on October 15th to discuss her concerns with them. Governor Ivey is devoted to getting to the core of the issue and solving it once and for all.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections said Spencer’s case file included three prison escape convictions, three burglary convictions and a second degree assault of an inmate conviction. Still, the board released him to a supervising officer and the Jimmy Hale Mission in Birmingham where he was supposed to complete a six-month program. 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.”

During a phone call with James, the attorney told WHNT News 19 he wants the board to follow their own policies and procedures. He said that includes holding the supervising officers accountable in their mandated check-ups with the parolees.

WHNT News 19’s reporting has uncovered multiple opportunities for law enforcement to take Spencer into custody. Sardis Police arrested him on June 14 after they said he played a role in a theft at a local business. Police arrested him again at Guntersville State Park on July 13. Then, he was arrested on several different charges including driving without a license, no insurance, and an open container violation.

James also said Guntersville Police went to Reliford’s home before the murders. He said Reliford called authorities when she noticed some prescription medication was missing.

At the time, Spencer was working on some projects around the house for her. When police responded, they checked Spencer’s vehicle but did not find any pills.

Several law enforcement agencies checked for any alerts on Spencer in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). But, there were not any holds on Spencer for the state, therefore they could not keep him in custody.