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Nathaniel Woods executed as accomplice in 2004 police murders

Nathaniel Woods during his trial in 2005.(Associated Press)
Associated Press

A man convicted in the 2004 killings of three police officers in Alabama who were shot by another man was executed Thursday evening.

Inmate Nathaniel Woods, 43, was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. CST following a lethal injection at the state prison in Atmore, authorities said. The inmate had no last words before the chemicals began flowing, but appeared to arrange his hands in a Muslim sign of faith.

Woods at one point during the procedure jerked his left arm upward against the restraints of the gurney. His breathing became labored and then slowed.

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 slayings, opening fire on the officers with a high-powered rifle inside the apartment, though Woods was convicted as an accomplice.

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. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey denied a request for clemency.

“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,” Ivey said in a statement after the execution.

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, 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 from anyone.” Spencer told a newspaper 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 said in a letter to Ivey.

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.

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