Alabama Inmate to Be Executed for Slayings of 3 Police Officers

March 5, 2020 Updated: March 5, 2020
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Alabama is set to execute an inmate on the night of March 5 for the murders of three police officers who were shot by another man in a hail of gunfire at a suspected crack house in 2004.

Nathaniel Woods, 43, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection at the state prison in Holman unless the governor or courts intervene.

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

Prosecutors have said Woods helped set up an ambush for the officers and should die for the killings even though he didn’t pull the trigger on the high-powered rifle that killed the men. Such convictions are allowed under state law, and other people have been executed for “non-triggerman” slayings.

But supporters including the son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Woods’ family appealed for mercy, claiming the man received an unfair trial and that the death sentence was unjust.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Woods’ appeal in 2019 and the state set an execution date earlier this year.

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

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 and scuffled with him before Spencer picked up a rifle and began shooting, evidence showed.

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.

Woods’ girlfriend initially told authorities that both Spencer and Woods hated police and that Woods wanted to kill Owen, but she later testified that the claim was a lie.

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’ lawyers unsuccessfully appealed his conviction, arguing he had ineffective counsel and that the trial had multiple errors, including the admission of the song lyrics and drawings from his cell.

His attorneys filed a new challenge related to 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.

Martin Luther King, III sent Gov. Kay Ivey a letter on Tuesday “pleading with you not to execute Nathaniel Woods.” She did not immediately respond. King called the scheduled execution an “injustice” in a tweet.

By Kim Chandler