Sordid chapter in Alabama criminal justice history coming to close
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This past week the conviction and recommendation of the death penalty by a Marshall County jury of Jimmy Lee Spencer puts the state one step closer to justice for the victims of his crimes and a sordid chapter in Alabama criminal justice history.
Spencer was found guilty for the murder of three people only eight months after his release from prison by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles in November of 2017. The violent career criminal should have never been released on parole, but he was, and his subsequent actions led to the 2018 deaths of Martha Dell Reliford, Marie Kitchens Martin and 7-year-old Colton Ryan Lee.
The State of Alabama paid the families of the victims $1 million based on the contention that Spencer was wrongly paroled, nor properly supervised once he was out of prison. Attorney General Steve Marshall at the time recounted that Spencer was not only a felon who had committed violent crimes, but that he also stayed in trouble while in prison. Thus, his parole should never have occurred.
His release and the violent killings prompted state officials to finally overhaul a lenient parole board that was routinely releasing violent felons who did not deserve to be back out on the streets and were a public safety risk.
After reforms were passed by Alabama lawmakers in 2019, the current board with all new members has earned praise for finally putting public safety first when making release decisions. The new law gave the governor more oversight of the board and new rules and regulations to keep violent offenders behind bars. Thankfully with both a stronger parole board and the Victim Advocacy Group “VOCAL,” we are in a better position to prevent dangerous inmates from being released early.
However, there are already efforts by some progressive groups and lawmakers to weaken the parole board during the next session of the Alabama Legislature.
Alabama citizens need to make it crystal clear to state leaders that they will not stand for legislators passing laws that do anything to jeopardize public safety.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and can be found on Twitter at @Paul_DeMarco.