GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – Jurors in the triple murder trial of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer listened to testimony from law enforcement officers who responded to the 2018 scene on Friday.
The 57-year-old is charged with the deaths of Marie Martin, her 7-year-old great-grandson Colton Lee and her neighbor Martha Reliford in July 2018. He faces seven counts of capital murder in this case, and prosecutors are asking for the death penalty.
During Friday’s testimony, many graphic photos were shown to the jurors. Judge Tim Riley warned family members and friends of the victims of the photos before they were shown and urged them to leave the courtroom if the images were too moving.
Spencer, seated at a table with his attorneys Robert Tuten and Jerry Baker, lowered his head, covered his eyes and turned his chair so he wouldn’t look at many photos of the three bodies.
During Thursday’s opening statements and first testimony, Spencer took off his glasses, wiped his eyes on a handkerchief and shirt sleeve, and stared at the defense table.
Guntersville Police Officer Jeff Hall was the first to speak on Friday, recounting how he discovered Martin’s missing Ford 500 after his body was found at her home on Mulberry Street.
Hall testified that he was called to work early on July 13, 2018, following the discovery of the bodies of Martin, Reliford and Lee.
As the investigation progressed, Hall testified that he had been assigned to patrol duties in the city and he spotted Martin’s vehicle parked in the Publix parking lot near the pharmacy around 10 p.m. on the 13th. July.
He said that while looking for the keys to the vehicle, he discovered an Oxy Clean bottle and cloth nearby, both of which were entered into evidence.
He testified that officers stayed with the vehicle until it was searched and later impounded, towed from the grocery store parking lot.
After his 30 minutes of testimony, Alabama Special Bureau of Investigations agent Joe Parrish took the stand to testify about his work at the crime scene across the street from Reliford’s home.
He testified for about an hour, saying he arrived at the Mulberry Street scene around 9 p.m. on July 13 with two other SBI officers. He said he entered the back of the Reliford house with other officers and helped with the search and collection of evidence. He said officers could smell a “foul and pungent” smell emanating from inside the house.
He testified that Reliford’s body was found in an advanced stage of decomposition and that his body was extremely bloated, causing the smell.
Parrish testified that he remained at the scene for approximately four hours to assist area law enforcement responding to the crime.
The final witness for the day was Guntersville Police Chief Investigator John East.
East testified for over an hour and explained how, as lead investigator, he sought assistance from the Albertville, Boaz and Arab States Police Departments, Marshall County District Attorney’s Office , the Marshall County Drug Enforcement Unit and the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office in addition to the SBI to work the extensive pair of crime scenes.
East said when he entered Martin’s home through the front door, he saw the television on and felt the cool air from a working window air conditioner.
He said that as he walked further into the house, he saw open cabinets in the kitchen that he thought were “inappropriate and strange”, and various objects apparently thrown on the floor.
He also found the bodies of Martin and Lee. He described Martin’s body having head trauma, a neck injury that caused severe blood loss, a ligature around his neck, and his hands tied behind his back with a cell phone charging cord. The ligature and cord were left in place to be removed by the Department of Forensic Sciences during an autopsy.
In a second chamber, Lee’s body was discovered with a plastic clothes hanger and claw hammer – both stained with suspected blood – near his body.
A drawstring backpack bearing the name “Tristan” was found near his body. The backpack strings were broken and missing. Lee’s hands were tied behind his back with string compatible with backpack string, East said.
Friday’s testimony was cut short due to the city’s annual homecoming parade, which was expected to be loud and disruptive.
Riley released the jurors at 12:30 p.m. and the trial will resume at 9 a.m. Monday when East is expected to return to the stand.