Jury recommends death penalty for Jimmy O’Neal Spencer

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GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A jury has recommended that Jimmy Spencer be given the death penalty for a 2018 triple homicide in Guntersville.

A jury of seven men and five women decided to sentence Spencer after 40 minutes of deliberations on Friday. The jury voted 12-0 for the death penalty.

Spencer’s sentence will be imposed at a sentencing hearing on November 14.

Spencer was found guilty Wednesday of seven counts of murder for the July 2018 murders of Marie Martin, her great-grandson Colton Lee and her neighbor Martha Reliford.

During the sentencing hearing, District Attorney Everette Johnson told the jury in his opening statement that they only needed to weigh the weight of the prosecution’s and defense’s arguments.

Defense attorney Robert Tutten told the jury that with the start of the penalty phase, the case is now moving away from the victims and toward Spencer. He said Spencer didn’t have the support in his life that many other people had.

Tutten said mitigating circumstances are not an excuse, but an important thing to consider. He also pointed out that Spencer had spent much of his life in prison and was released without life skills or prospects.

In the opening portion of the hearing, the prosecution simply offered all the evidence that had been presented during the trial and then paused.

The defense began by reading testimony from a previous hearing by Dr. Randall Griffith. Griffith, a psychologist, evaluated Spencer before the trial to see if he met the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court to qualify for the death penalty.

The judge ultimately ruled that Spencer met the standard, which also addresses adaptive functioning and if problems were identified before age 18, although Griffith testified that Spencer’s IQ was below the standard.

The only defense witness was Lauren Spacek, a certified mitigation specialist who investigated Spencer’s background.

Spacek said she spent 15 to 20 hours interviewing Spencer about his past. She said she had difficulty finding Spencer’s school records or any records prior to his time with the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Spacek said Spencer’s father died when he was two years old and his mother got cancer when he was in second grade. She said he had brothers who were several years older and the oldest brother had a drug problem.

Špaček also detailed Spencer’s troubled life before the murders. She said Spencer was diagnosed in 2021 with a lung disease that has no treatment or cure.

Spacek said she was also aware that Spencer had been found several times with an improvised weapon, including on the morning of the hearing.

On cross-examination, the prosecution asked about Spencer’s prison record, his eight other felony convictions and the classes he took in prison.

The prosecution also asked Špaček about prison records showing that Spencer read as a hobby, despite her testimony that he had difficulty reading.

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The prosecution called Dr. Glen King, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Spencer, as a rebuttal witness. He said he had trouble evaluating Spencer’s defense because he was handcuffed and not wearing glasses during the test.

King said those factors will lead to a lower score. Spencer scored 56 on a defense IQ test, but 73 on a prison IQ test in 1984.

King said test scores are usually consistent, and someone who scored a 56 would generally need a lot of supervision to function in society. He said he believed Spencer had better adaptive functions than someone with an IQ of 56.

King said Spencer refused to take an IQ test he was about to administer.

In closing arguments, Tutten argued that the jury was casting Spencer into prison like God had cast Cain.

Prosecutor Ed Kellett simply argued that no mitigating or aggravating circumstance could balance what happened in the case.

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