By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, the man whose alleged 2018 killings of three people in Guntersville led to leadership and policy changes at the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, has a parole hearing in August.
Bureau Director Cam Ward told Alabama Daily News the hearing is automatic and Spencer, who is awaiting trial for capital murder in the deaths of Colton Lee, Marie Martin and Martha Reliford, has little chance of being granted parole.
“While I cannot speak for the board and am not allowed to influence their decisions, the Jimmy Spencer case was a dark chapter in the role that Pardons and Paroles serves in the criminal justice system,” Ward told Alabama Daily News. “I sincerely believe there is a better chance of a snowball falling on my house in August than him ever getting paroled.”
The hearing is set for Aug. 9, according to an ABPP schedule on its website. Spencer is currently serving the sentence for which he was granted parole in 2017, despite a life sentence and long criminal history. After the slayings, Spencer’s parole was revoked and a new hearing was set, per state law.
Ward, director since late 2021, said parole hearings are set out for every three to five years and previous ABPP leadership likely assumed Spencer would have been tried in the Guntersville slayings by now and never appear before the parole board. Ward said the COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed the murder trial, which is now set for October.
In response to the Guntersville slayings, in 2018 Gov. Kay Ivey issued a temporary moratorium on early paroles, replaced the chair of the board of pardons and paroles and ordered the agency to produce a detailed, corrective action plan.
A 2018 reform law to reshape the agency and gave Ivey more direct oversight, including the ability to appoint the agency’s director.
In 2019, the state agreed to a $1 million settlement with the victims’ families, who contended the state shouldn’t have released Spencer and failed to monitor him when it did.
Since 2018, the board has since slowed its paroles significantly, leading advocates to say its not following its own guidelines. https://www.aldailynews.com/alabama-paroles-drop-further-releases-lag-for-black-inmates/
After the triple slaying, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall described Spencer as a career criminal, the Associated Press reported. Spencer initially entered prison in the 1980s, convicted and imprisoned for numerous serious property and violent crimes. He successfully escaped prison several times. On two separate occasions, Spencer was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Despite his record, Spencer was granted parole in November 2017 and released the following January. He was supposed to remain in a Birmingham homeless shelter for six months but left after only three weeks.