Alabama man charged in triple killing ruled competent for trial

Published 1:14 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2021

A man accused of killing two women and a child in a case that prompted a $1 million payment by the state was ruled mentally competent to stand trial on capital murder charges, news outlets reported Tuesday.

While the defense had raised questions about the mental health of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, Marshall County Circuit Judge Tim Riley ordered his trial to begin Jan. 10.

Earlier, Riley had ordered a psychological screening for Spencer, 55, after his lawyers said they had reason to suspect he was mentally ill.

Spencer has pleaded not guilty in the July 2018 deaths of Marie Martin, 74; her 7-year-old great-grandson Colton Lee; and Martha Reliford, 65, a neighbor of Martin. Martin was stabbed and strangled and the child died from blunt force trauma; Reliford was struck with a hatchet and stabbed days earlier.

The state agreed to pay a $1 million settlement to the victims’ families, who contended Spencer was wrongly released from prison before the killings.

Initially sent to prison in the 1980s on multiple convictions, Spencer was granted parole and released in January 2018, authorities said. He was supposed to say at a halfway house in Birmingham for six months but left after a few weeks.

Spencer wound up in the north Alabama city of Guntersville, where he had several run-ins with law enforcement before the slayings. Afterward, Gov. Kay Ivey temporarily suspended state paroles and replaced the parole board chairman, partly in response to the killings.

A steep decline in inmate releases followed Spencer’s arrest once the parole process resumed, and lawmakers approved legislation that made the chair of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles a gubernatorial appointee.