MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A Birmingham man was executed Thursday evening on a 2005 conviction of being an accomplice to the murder of 3 police officers.
Nathaniel Woods, 43, was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. CT after an execution that lasted 15 minutes. He had no final words.
Woods was put to death amid a storm of appeals and protests from supporters who noted that Woods did not actually kill officers Charles Bennett, Carlos "Curly" Owen and Harley Chisholm III on June 17, 2004, that Woods' attorneys missed key deadlines in his appeals, and that the trigger man – also on death row – said Woods was not involved.
Woods visited with his family members Thursday afternoon, including his daughter and granddaughter. His sister Pamela said after they were seeking time to submit evidence to the courts on Woods' behalf.
"We want justice for the officers," she said. "We want justice for my brother. It can't be one-sided or for one group of people. You have to have justice for everyone. We want justice for Nathaniel."
Family members of the officers who attended the execution said Woods was as guilty as the man who pulled the trigger.
"Our loved ones took their last breath while upholding the law to make (Birmingham) a safer place," said Rhonda Hembd, the sister of Harley Chisholm, after the execution. "Our families will not have closure until Kerry Spencer’s execution date. May God have mercy on their souls. Until then may our loved ones rest in peace."
Woods had no final words before the execution began at 8:39 p.m. CT. He kept his head and shoulders elevated on the gurney he was strapped to for the first several minutes of the execution, looking at one of the galleries and occasionally moving his lips. He held his right finger out throughout the execution.
Woods showed labored breathing at 8:45 p.m., and his left arms jerked against its restraint. He did not respond to a consciousness test administered a minute later.
Officers Bennett, Owen and Chisholm were shot and killed in a drug house on Birmingham's west side on June 17, 2004. The shooter, Kerry Spencer, is on death row. An execution date for Spencer has not been set.
In a statement Thursday night, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who denied appeals for clemency, accused Woods of luring the police officers into the house, and said two other individuals had been executed in Alabama since 1983 "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," the statement said.
Though Woods has acknowledged he and Spencer sold drugs, he is not accused of actually killing the officers and by all accounts did not have a gun at the time of the shooting.
But at his 2005 trial, prosecutors argued that Woods had "conspired" with the Spencer. Alabama law makes a person legally accountable for the behavior of another person if he or she "procures, induces or causes such other person to commit the offense." Prosecutors did not provide evidence that Woods held or fired a gun during the incident.
A jury convicted Woods and voted 10-2 to sentence him to death. Spencer told The Appeal last month that Woods was not involved and that "there was no plan to kill the police."
The Woods family and hundreds of thousands of people appealed to the governor to extend clemency to Woods. A change.org petition seeking to stop the execution gathered more than 100,000 signatures as of Thursday evening. Several prominent figures called for the execution to be put off. Martin Luther King III wrote to Ivey earlier this week urging her to grant clemency.
"Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice," King wrote. "Are you willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?"
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., said in a statement Thursday he called Ivey's office to express concerns about the case.
"Given the questions and mitigating issues involved in this case – and the finality of a death sentence – a delay is warranted to provide time for a thorough review of all the facts and circumstances to truly ensure that justice is done," the statement said.
Kim Kardashian West sent a tweet urging Ivey to commute Woods' sentence, and later shared a number for Ivey's office. The rapper and actor T.I. also called on followers to contact Ivey. The family of former Alabama and Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr also called for clemency.
Woods' family delivered letters to Ivey on Wednesday in protest of the execution.
The debate over Woods extended to the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday morning. Democratic state Rep. Thomas Jackson told the body that "the evidence shows (Woods) is an innocent man."
"What we are facing right now is a travesty what happened," he said. "Those families lost their families, their husbands, their fathers, their brothers. But the man who’s been in prison all these years didn’t do anything to cause him to be on death row."
GOP Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Birmingham, a veteran of the Birmingham Police Department who knew the officers who were killed that day, said he "lost three buddies that day."
"My thoughts today go to that family," he said. "To his wife that called me crying, who called and said, 'Allen, do you think I’ll live long enough to see justice served?'"
Democratic Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said he did not have a problem with capital punishment for those who pulled the trigger. But he said Woods did not fit that bill.
"He did not kill one officer," he said. "He was a drug addict in the wrong place at the wrong time."