UPDATED: 7:02 a.m. ET, March 6 —
A convicted accomplice to murder in Alabama was executed on Thursday night despite his claims of innocence and a growing national outcry from activists demanding his death sentence be stayed. “Nathaniel Woods, 43, was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. after an execution that lasted about 15 minutes,” the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
An execution set for Thursday is facing some major pushback from community leaders and activists.
According to CNN, Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods was convicted of killing three police officers back in 2004. Woods is scheduled to be executed on Thursday despite someone already confessing to the crime.
The 42-year-old has maintained his innocence and his lawyers have pointed out that another defendant in the case, Kerry Spencer, confessed to being the lone gunman. They’ve asked Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to commute Woods’ sentence and many activists have echoed this request, including Martin Luther King III. The son of the celebrated civil rights leader wrote a letter to the governor, which said, “In just 2 days, your state, and the state I was born in, is set to kill a man who is very likely innocent.”
The letter continued, “Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice.”
Woods’ attorneys said that when he was initially convicted of capital murder, he was appointed lawyers by the court and they had never handled a capital case. Woods’ current attorneys said that his court case stemmed from an inadequate investigation and his lawyers failed to advise him properly about taking a plea deal that was offered. Instead, he turned down the plea deal.
According to the Montgomery Advisor, lawyer J.D. Lloyd explained in a May 2019 federal habeas petition for Woods:
“Mr. Woods did not realize that the State of Alabama could convict him and pursue a death sentence on a theory of accomplice liability or aiding and abetting. Instead, Mr. Woods erroneously believed — based on counsel’s advice — that the State would be required to prove that Mr. Woods pulled the trigger, thereby directly causing the officers’ deaths. Mr. Woods believed that Spencer’s admissions that Spencer was the shooter would preclude the State from pursuing a capital murder conviction and a death sentence against Mr. Woods. He was wrong. Had he known he was wrong, he would have accepted the State’s plea offer.”
Woods was convicted of capital murder as an accomplice to the shooter, Spencer, who was awakened from a nap on June 17, 2004 when cops entered a west Birmingham home with an outstanding warrant for Woods.
Prosecutors at the time didn’t provide any evidence that proved Woods held or fired a gun during the incident that left officers Carlos Owen and Harley Chisholm dead inside the home. A third officer, Charles Bennett, died outside the home after attempts at radioing for help. A fourth officer survived, although he suffered some injuries.
Spencer has testified that he encountered the cops earlier in the day on June 17, where he believed the officers threatened him. Both Spencer and Woods admitted to selling drugs from the home they were in, however, Spencer maintains that Woods wasn’t involved in a conspiracy or plan to murder the cops that day.
A witness for the original trial testified that the officers arrived at the home and talked with Woods about a domestic assault charge he was wanted on. Marquita McClure testified that the cops ripped the “locked door off its hinges and rushed inside.”
“They jumped on him in the kitchen,” she said. “After that, everything happened so fast.”
Woods “quickly surrendered” to the police after they entered, according to court documents filed by prosecutors in the 2019 request to set Woods’ execution date.
Meanwhile, Spencer was reportedly asleep on a living room sofa when another man woke him up. McClure testified that Spencer then grabbed a nearby rifle and opened fire after he saw an officer draw a gun.
“By the time help arrived, the other three officers were dead,” Assistant Attorney General Lauren Simpson said in a 2019 filing. “Officer Bennett was discovered with a smoking hole in his face, and Officers Owen and Chisolm were found in the apartment. Each had died from multiple gunshot wounds.”
According to court documents, Spencer confessed that he shot in a “knee-jerk reaction” when he saw one of the cops holding a gun. Woods was arrested as an accomplice when McClure initially explained to officers that she heard him “threaten to kill Owen” earlier in the day. In court documents, prosecutors say Woods was heard screaming “Fu** the police” and “threatened to ‘fu** [Officer Owen] up.'”
However, on trial, McClure recanted, saying she didn’t believe the shooting was premeditated but she told investigators what they wanted to hear.
Both Spencer and Woods were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death because of the killings. Spencer’s execution date hasn’t been set yet and he’s currently in prison with appeals still pending in his case. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court turned down Woods’ appeal last year, making way for his planned execution on Thursday.
In attempts to stop Woods’ execution, Martin Luther King III also tweeted, “Email Pam Chesnutt from @GovernorKayIvey’s office at Pam.Chesnutt@Governor.Alabama.Gov, and ask the Governor to grant Nate a reprieve immediately. This wrong at every level.”
Along with King, Bart Starr Jr. — the son of the late NFL Hall of Fame quarterback — is also advocating for Woods. “What took place was simultaneously a tragedy for three families of police officers, but now another potential tragedy because the system has failed an individual,” Starr Jr. told WBRC. “Simply being at the wrong place where someone else shows up and then starts firing at police officers is not a reason to assign culpability to someone else.”