A man convicted of killing three people, including a 7-year-old boy, in $600 robberies was sentenced to death Monday by a judge who called it “a reason for the death penalty.”
A judge handed down Jimmy O’Neal Spencer’s death sentence in accordance with the jury’s decision last month, media reported. Spencer, who was on probation at the time of the murders, was found guilty of capital murder for the 2018 deaths of Martha Dell Reliford, 65; Marie Martin Kitchens, 74; and Martin’s great-grandson, Colton Ryan Lee, 7.
The women were killed in separate robberies that raised about $600, prosecutors said, and the boy was killed because he was a witness.
“This court has ordered and adjudicated that you be sentenced to death and you deserve death. If there was ever a reason for the death penalty to exist in this state, it’s you,” Marshall County Circuit Judge Tim Riley told Spencer. according to W.H.N.T.
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The judge was bound to the jury’s death sentence decision because lawmakers in 2017 ended a judge’s ability to overturn a jury’s sentencing recommendation in capital murder cases. Spencer and the families of the victims spoke in court before the death sentence was pronounced.
“He belongs in hell,” said Nellie Wray, Reliford’s sister, according to al.com. “She Killed a Baby and Two Innocent Women.”
Spencer had been placed on probation eight months before the murders. He was released after serving 28 years of a life sentence for a variety of convictions including robbery and assault. Evidence over four days of the trial showed that Spencer initially did well after being released from prison, but he re-offended after losing his job.
Politicians cited Spencer’s case in pushing to make the state’s parole process more difficult, and the parole rate has dropped dramatically since then.
Spencer told the court that she would go back and change what happened if she could.
“I’m sorry about what happened. There’s no way I can change it. If I could, I would.”
During the trial, investigators played an audio recording of Spencer saying she went to the houses in July 2018 to steal money and committed the murders to avoid leaving witnesses behind.
He first went to the home of Reliford, whom he had met through a relative, and hit her over the head with an axe, authorities said. Concerned that the woman wasn’t dead, Spencer slashed her throat with a kitchen knife before fleeing with about $600.
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Days later, after the money ran out, he went to the home of Martin, the Reliford neighbor, and strangled her with a dog leash before slitting her throat, authorities said. Spencer hit the boy’s head with a hammer to prevent the boy from identifying him and walked off with $13, authorities said.
While the defense challenged Spencer’s mental competence, a judge ruled that he could stand trial.