Alabama executes inmate convicted in killing of 3 officers

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ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — A man convicted in the 2004 killings of three police officers who were shot by another man was executed Thursday evening in Alabama.

Inmate Nathaniel Woods, 43, was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. CST Thursday following a lethal injection at the state prison in Atmore, authorities said. The inmate had no last words before the chemicals began flowing.

The execution came after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay to consider last-minute appeals and then denied the inmate’s petitions. It also came after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told Woods’ attorney she had denied a request for clemency.

Woods and Kerry Spencer were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in the slayings of the three Birmingham officers. The officers’ deaths in a hail of gunfire rocked Alabama’s largest city in 2004. Carlos Owen, Harley A. Chisolm III and Charles R. Bennett died while trying to serve a misdemeanor domestic assault warrant on Woods at a suspected drug house.

Prosecutors said Spencer was the triggerman in the slaying, opening fire on the officers with a high-powered rifle inside the apartment, but Woods was convicted as an accomplice.

Supporters, including the son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., waged a last-minute appeal to stop the execution as the case drew national attention. Supporters argued that Spencer said he was the sole person responsible for the shootings and that Woods received an unfair trial in 2005.

“’He is actually innocent,” Woods’ sister, Pamela Woods, had told reporters outside the prison earlier Thursday. “Kerry Spencer the actual shooter has stated many times that he did it on his own with no help for anyone.” Spencer told The Appeal in an article about the case that Woods was “100% innocent.”

“Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice. Are you willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?” Martin Luther King III had written the state’s governor, Ivey.

Ivey denied clemency in the case. Ivey’s general counsel sent Woods’ attorneys a letter saying the governor’s review of the case determined “clemency for Mr. Woods at this hour is unwarranted.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, tweeted before Thursday’s execution that he believed that “a delay is warranted to provide for a thorough review of all the facts and circumstances to truly ensure that justice is done.” Jones said he reached out to Ivey’s office with his concerns.

Testimony showed the officers approached a small house where Woods and Spencer were believed to deal drugs; at least two other people were also inside. After talking to Woods through a back door, Owen and Chisholm entered. State lawyers wrote in court filings that Woods said he was surrendering to officers and soon after Spencer opened fire with a high-powered rife.

Owen, 58, and Chisholm, 40, were found dead in the kitchen just inside a rear door, and Bennett, 33, was fatally shot near the front door. A fourth officer was wounded but survived.

Prosecutors argued Woods played a role in the slayings, and lured officers into the apartment.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had asked Ivey to let the execution proceed. “Although Woods was not the shooter, he was hardly an innocent bystander,” Marshall wrote in a letter to Ivey.

Woods’ lawyers unsuccessfully appealed his conviction, arguing he had ineffective counsel and that the trial had multiple errors, including the admission of song lyrics and drawings taken from his cell while he was awaiting trial. State attorneys said that while Woods was awaiting trial, deputies found a drawing of a bullet-riddled police car in his jail cell and song lyrics about killing such as, “Haven’t you ever heard of a killa I drop pigs like Kerry Spencer.”

Woods’ attorneys on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution over what they said was a lack of information given to inmates when they had to decide whether nitrogen hypoxia — an execution method authorized but not yet implemented by the state — would be their preferred execution method. Woods didn’t pick a method. Attorneys said inmates did not know that would affect the timing of their execution. The state is not scheduling executions for inmates who picked nitrogen because the state has not developed the method.

A Supreme Court stay temporarily delayed the execution plan to consider Woods’ final appeals. But the high court said about two hours later that the execution could proceed.

A separate stay request also was filed with the Supreme Court on Thursday night, arguing Woods had ineffective counsel for his trial and most of his appeal. It also was denied.

No execution date has been set for Spencer, who was convicted before Woods and is on death row.

Governor Ivey’s Statement on the execution of Nathaniel Woods

“On June 17, 2004, four Birmingham police officers went to the apartment of Nathaniel Woods, a known drug dealer, to issue a warrant of arrest. Unfortunately, only one of those officers lived to recount the horrendous assault upon him and his fellow officers.

“As explained by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the evidence showed that Woods was an integral participant in the intentional murder of these three officers. On the day the officers were killed, Mr. Woods talked to others about killing police officers; he taunted the officers and lured them into his apartment, where he knew they would be met by gunfire; he pointed the gunman to the third police officer; and he escaped with the gunman.

“Each officer died of multiple gunshot wounds. Two officers were shot in the back and one in the head, and none of the officers had an opportunity to discharge return fire. In fact, one officer’s weapon was still holstered.

“The state offered the testimony of 39 witnesses at Woods’ capital murder trial, including Officer Michael Collins, 25 other law enforcement officers, and forensic experts. There is no evidence, and no argument has been made, that Nathaniel Woods tried to stop the gunman from committing these heinous crimes. In fact, he later bragged about his participation in these horrific murders. As such, the jury did not view Woods’ acts as those of an innocent bystander; they believed that he was a fully engaged participant.

“A jury of Mr. Woods’ peers convicted him of four counts of capital murder. In the past 15 years, his conviction has been reviewed at least nine times, and no court has found any reason to overturn the jury’s decision.

“Under Alabama law, someone who helps kill a police officer is just as guilty as the person who directly commits the crime. Since 1983, Alabama has executed two individuals for being an accomplice to capital murder.

“After thorough and careful consideration of the facts surrounding the case, the initial jury’s decision, the many legal challenges and reviews, I concluded that the state of Alabama should carry out Mr. Woods’ lawfully imposed sentence this evening.

“This is not a decision that I take lightly, but I firmly believe in the rule of law and that justice must be served. My thoughts and most sincere prayers are for the families of Officers Chisholm, Owen and Bennett. May the God of all comfort be with these families as they continue to find peace and heal from this terrible crime.”

Goveror Kay Ivey

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