State of Alabama to pay $1 million to families of Guntersville murder victims

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. - The state of Alabama will pay $1 million to the families of three murder victims who were allegedly killed by a man who was supposed to be supervised by the state parole board.

The $1 million settlement is the maximum amount allowed under state law and comes before the suspect, Jimmy O'Neal Spencer, has gone to trial for the charges.

Birmingham attorney Tommy James, who represents the families of Colton Lee, Marie Martin and Martha Reliford, confirmed the settlement.

"Now that this settlement has been reached, the families of these innocent victims can focus on the criminal case against Jimmy O'Neal Spencer," James said in a news release. "They are praying for swift and severe justice."

Spencer is accused of killing Lee, Martin and Reliford in Guntersville in July 2018. Investigators say Martin was looking after her great-grandson, seven-year-old Colton Lee, at her home on Mulberry Street in July when she was strangled and stabbed. Colton was killed by blunt force trauma. Days earlier, investigators say her neighbor, Martha Dell Reliford, 65, had been hit in the head with the back flat part of a hatchet and stabbed.

Marshall County Sheriff's Office deputies walked Jimmy Spencer across Blount Avenue for a hearing.

Spencer, who Alabama Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall called a "career criminal," had been released from prison months before the murders and was sent to a Birmingham halfway house. He left the halfway house three weeks after being released, but was supposed to be there six months.

He traveled to Guntersville, where authorities said he had multiple run-ins with the law and was charged with traffic offenses, resisting arrest and illegal firearm possession. His parole was not revoked after any of those incidents.

Marshall was not involved in the settlement negotiations because he knew Martin and Reliford. In a news release, he said thinking about the suffering they went through makes him 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," Marshall said.

An AG's office spokesman said the settlement was in the best interest of the state "in light of the alleged facts as presented by the plaintiffs."

Spencer is charged with seven counts of capital murder. Court records show his next court appearance will be in September. A trial date hasn't been set.

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