Victims’ families say changes to law offer little consolation one year after Guntersville triple homicide

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GUNTERSVILLE, Ala – Saturday marks one year since a triple murder in the quiet town of Guntersville rocked the community. 7-year-old Colton Lee and his great grandmother Marie Martin were killed and neighbor Martha Reliford’s body was discovered July 13th.

The lives of the family members left behind have been changed forever.

What these families are dealing with is an unimaginable loss. Their attorney, Tommy James says the families are having a difficult time as they approach this anniversary. It’s been a long year. This crime pointed a spotlight on problems with the Board of Pardons and Paroles and sparked change to keep dangerous criminals in prison.

“They’re not doing well. All three families this was just devastating,” Tommy James said. “It was a shock to them it was a shock to the community.”

Jimmy Spencer has been charged with multiple counts of capital murder in connection to their deaths. He was out of parole at the time of the crime –  something Governor Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall say Spencer should never have happened. Spencer was serving a life sentence when he was released.

“There have been changes in the system as a result of this,” James said.

Media reports about Spencer’s mistaken release put pressure on state officials. The governor signed an executive order to stop the early release of inmates in October. The Board of Pardons and Paroles has not heard a case for early release since then.

Ivey signed a bill strengthening parole board regulations during the legislative session. Reforms to the parole board also include requiring notification to law enforcement and the parole board if a parolee absconds.

Governor Ivey visited Huntsville Wednesday. After she spoke at an event at the VBC she addressed the media and talked about the one year anniversary of the murders.

“We’ve changed the law to prevent early parole be serious offenders like that because the main job of the pardons and paroles board is to protect public safety,” Governor Ivey said.

But James says that is little consolation to his clients. The changes to the law do not change the fact that his clients feel the loss of their loved ones every single day.

Even though Spencer has not been convicted, in May the state settled a $1 million lawsuit with the victims’ families. That was the maximum amount the law allows. James says he would like to see that amount increased.

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