Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods was executed Thursday night after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its temporary stay to further review his case.
Nathaniel Woods, 44, who was convicted for his role in the fatal shootings of three Birmingham police officers in 2004, had been set to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. in Holman Prison — the first execution in the state this year.
Woods’ family and prominent activists had rallied on his behalf, collecting signatures in hopes of swaying Gov. Kay Ivey to grant him clemency, which she denied. Renewed questions surrounding his trial, accusations that his case was mishandled and larger concerns over how Alabama’s criminal laws treat black defendants have caused concern in recent days.
“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,” Ivey said in a statement after Woods was executed.
Even Woods’ co-defendant, Kerry Spencer, who has confessed to being the triggerman and denies Woods was complicit, implored for his execution to be stopped.
“Nathaniel Woods is 100% innocent,” Spencer, who remains on death row, wrote in an open letter. “I know that to be a fact because I’m the person that shot and killed all three of the officers that Nathaniel was subsequently charged and convicted of murdering. Nathaniel Woods doesn’t even deserve to be incarcerated, much less executed.”
The case drew attention from celebrities and activists, including Kim Kardashian West and Martin Luther King III, asking Ivey to intervene.
During Woods’ 2005 trial, prosecutors said he and his roommate, Spencer, were involved in the sale of crack cocaine from their Birmingham home.
Officers were sent to the home to serve a misdemeanor warrant, but prosecutors said Woods, who was 27 at the time, set up an ambush that allowed Spencer to shoot at them multiple times. Three officers — Carlos Owen, Harley Chisholm III and Charles Bennett — were killed, while a fourth officer at the scene was shot but survived.
Spencer admitted to shooting the officers, but said it was in self-defense because the officers were assaulting Woods, an assertion that the judge did not permit at trial. Two of the officers who were killed were later accused by another drug dealer at Woods’ home of being involved in a corrupt scheme that protected dealers in exchange for money. The Birmingham police declined to comment on the allegation.
The surviving officer, Michael Collins, said at the time that he believed Woods helped plan the shooting, but that he didn’t actually fire a weapon. According to him, Woods yelled, “I give up. I give up. Just don’t spray me with that mace,” before the shooting initiated.
Collins added that “I knew it wasn’t Nathaniel” who had fired at him.
While prosecutors didn’t dispute that Spencer shot at the officers, Woods was tagged as an accomplice, which in Alabama means that even if a person didn’t pull the trigger, they are still eligible for the death penalty.
While Spencer is on death row after he was convicted of murder, no execution date has been set.
Supporters of Woods have said he was the victim of incompetent counsel who failed to conduct an adequate investigation and missed key deadlines for appeals. Woods could have benefited from a plea deal of 20 to 25 years in prison, but supporters said he was wrongly informed by his own attorneys that he wouldn’t be convicted of capital murder because the state needed to prove he pulled the trigger.
“Mr. Woods did not accept this plea deal because he thought — with counsel’s encouragement — that he would be acquitted of these charges because the evidence would prove that he was not the shooter that day,” according to apetitionobjecting to his imprisonment.
In addition, supporters said, no evidence was produced that showed Woods plotted with Spencer and that it was Spencer who acted impulsively on his own when he opened fire.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshallsaid in a statementWednesday that the concerted effort by supporters is a “last-minute movement … to ‘save’ cop-killer Nathaniel Woods from his just punishment.”