MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — The jury in the triple homicide trial against Jimmy O’Neal Spencer heard opening statements and several witness testimonies as proceedings continued Thursday.
The 57-year-old is charged in the deaths of Marie Martin, her 7-year-old great-grandson Colton Lee, and her neighbor Martha Reliford in July 2018. Spencer faces seven counts of capital murder in the case, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
During opening statements, Prosecutor Edward Kellet laid out the facts, from his perspective, of the case. Kellet said the case began when Martin’s granddaughter couldn’t reach her and dropped by to check up on her.
He said the granddaughter found Martin and Lee both dead, Martin with a cord around her neck and Lee with head injuries, inside the house and called 911. The prosecutor said the two had likely been killed the night before they were discovered.
The prosecution said police found Reliford after determining that she hadn’t been seen for several days. She was also found dead in her home. Kellet said both women were apparently killed in robberies and Lee was attacked because he had been a witness.
The prosecutor said at the time Spencer was on parole, living in various halfway houses and other locations and going through various jobs. He said eventually Spencer was homeless, had lost his car and his job, but sometimes did odd jobs for Reliford.
Kellet said Spencer eventually went to Reliford’s house with a hatchet to get money. He said during this encounter Reliford was killed and Spencer took around $700.
He said Spencer went to Martin’s house after the money ran out and during that encounter Martin and Lee were killed and Spencer took $13.
Kellet said Spencer was found after police found Martin’s car which had been missing from the house. He also said that while Spencer was in custody in relation to the stolen car, he confessed to the killings.
Kellet said ultimately the evidence will show that Spencer is guilty of what he is charged with.
In his opening statement, Defense Attorney Jerry Baker said the case was going to be tough. He asked the jury to weigh the evidence carefully before making any final judgments.
Baker asked the jury to be fair to Spencer and simply follow the evidence.
The first witness called in the case was Martin’s granddaughter Amanda Patterson. While questioned by District Attorney Everette Johnson, Patterson said she was close to Martin and her son often played with Lee.
Patterson said she last spoke to Martin on July 12. She said they talked about Patterson’s son spending the night with Martin and that Lee already was. Patterson said the next day Martin didn’t come to pick up Patterson’s son and failed to answer the phone after persistent calls.
Patterson said she went by Martin’s house at lunchtime, but Martin’s car wasn’t there so she assumed her grandmother was out. She said she returned after work with her dad and a key.
Patterson said they found the house in disarray, jewelry was out of the jewelry box in Martin’s bedroom, the kitchen cabinets were left open and Lee’s clothes were scattered in the living room.
As Patterson described the house, Johnson showed the jury pictures of each room.
Patterson said she found Martin in the guest bedroom laying face down with her hands tied. She said Martin was unresponsive. Patterson said she ran outside to tell her dad and said she could not find Lee. She said her dad went into the house and came out saying he had found Lee’s body.
The prosecution also asked Patterson about Martin’s car, which she said was not there when she found Martin and Lee. Johnson also asked about Reliford. Patterson said she lived across the street, was blind and had cancer. She also said she had seen Spencer and a woman coming in and out of Reliford’s house in the days before the killings.
Patterson said the last time she had seen Spencer was the Sunday before she found Martin and Lee.
Patterson was followed up by her father, Martin’s son-in-law. The witness described his own experiences on July 13.
The witness said after confirming Martin’s condition, he went looking for Lee, who he found dead in another bedroom. The prosecution showed pictures of Lee’s body as the witness testified.
The next two witnesses were officers from the Guntersville Police Department. The first, Officer Harris, testified that he arrived at Martin’s home after a call involving a small boy possibly being strangled.
Harris said he arrived to find the first two witnesses outside. he then entered the house and found both bodies.
Harris said he then called an investigator and began closing down the scene. He said he heard Spencer’s name a few days later as a possible suspect and recognized him from work at a homeless shelter.
Harris said he recognized Spencer in security footage of someone driving Martin’s car. He ultimately was the one who took Spencer into custody.
The second officer was Ed Spinner, who also respond to the call at Martin’s house. Spinner said he knew Martin personally and lived on the same street.
He testified that he and another officer were the ones to discover Reliford after being told no one had seen her for days. Spinner said it appeared Reliford had been dead for several days.
While the prosecution questioned each witness extensively, the defense offered no cross-examination of any witness.
The trial will pick back up on Friday morning at the Marshall County Courthouse. News 19 will provide live updates from the courtroom.
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