MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — Jury selection is expected to continue Tuesday in the murder trial against Jimmy O’Neal Spencer after the pool of potential jurors was narrowed down to 75 people on Monday.
Spencer, the now 57-year-old was charged in the deaths of Marie Martin, her great-grandson Colton Lee, and her neighbor Martha Reliford in July 2018. He faces seven counts of capital murder in the case, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
All of the potential jurors filled out 9-page-long questionnaires and were questioned in groups on Tuesday.
The prosecution asked basic questions like if they knew anyone in law enforcement involved in the case or had any connections to it. But they also asked the more tough questions: Would they convict someone without DNA evidence? How do they feel about the death penalty? Would recommend life in prison, without the possibility of parole?
The defense explained the six levels of “burden of proof” to the jurors and explained that Spencer has the right to remain silent during the proceedings. Spencer’s lawyers asked the potential jurors another series of questions including: Do you think Spencer is guilty or not guilty before any evidence is presented? Have you already formed an opinion on Spencer and the events based on what they have heard on the news? Have you had your IQ tested? Would you volunteer to perform an execution for the Alabama Dept. of Corrections (ADOC) if asked?
These questions continued for several groups throughout the day Tuesday, and are expected to continue into Wednesday.
On Monday, Marshall County Judge Tim Riley ruled Monday that Spencer could face the death penalty after a hearing looking at the issue, though the defense argued he did not meet a US Supreme Court set standard saying a person must have an IQ of 70 to be sentenced to death.
A psychologist testified during the hearing that testing found that Spencer’s IQ was 56, but prosecutors pushed back against that. The prosecution in the case argued that the standard also required evidence showing a defendant has poor adaptive functioning, meaning they have difficulty functioning in society.
The prosecution claimed Spencer had previously been given a prison IQ test in 1984 and scored a 73. They also said the defense must also provide evidence the issues began before Spencer was 18.
The defense’s psychologist said Spencer had to repeat grades in school and left school in the eighth grade but did not provide records to back that up.
Ultimately the judge ruled the defense did not meet its burden of proof.
Spencer was on parole while serving a life sentence at the time of the crimes for second-degree burglary and first-degree escape.
Just months before the murders, Spencer was released from prison and sent to a halfway house in Birmingham where he stayed for three weeks instead of the six months he was supposed to be there. He then made his way to Guntersville where he had several run-ins with the law before the alleged triple homicide.
Spencer’s murder trial is being held at the Marshall County Courthouse. Stay with News 19 as we will have coverage throughout the entire trial.
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