MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — The jury selection for a trial for a man accused of killing two women and a 7-year-old boy in Guntersville over four years ago began on Monday morning. The court also looked at if he could face the death penalty based on mental competency.
Jimmy O’Neal Spencer 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.
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 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.
The prosecution said Spencer had previously been given a prison IQ test in 1984 and scored a 73.
Ultimately the judge ruled the defense did not meet its burden of proof.
Jury selection was not completed on Monday, with the pool narrowed down to 75 people. All of those people filled out questionnaires before leaving the courthouse and will be questioned in groups over the next two days.
Last month, attorneys for Spencer filed a motion asking the state to prohibit the death penalty, stating that the defendant isn’t eligible for the death penalty under Alabama law because he “suffers from significantly subaverage intellectual functioning.”
Spencer was intellectually tested in December of 2021. He was determined to have “extremely low range” intelligence scores. Court records show he also failed multiple grades in school and never learned to read or write.
The state of Alabama issued a response stating Spencer does not meet the definition of an intellectually disabled person under Alabama law. Court records show that Spencer tested significantly higher when he took previous intelligence tests with the Alabama Department of Corrections.
The filing says the state believes Spencer has the “ability to feign his responses” making his IQ appear lower than it really is.
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 triple homicide.
Jury Selection will continue in Spencer’s case on Tuesday Morning at the Marshall County Courthouse.