44-year-old Nathaniel Woods is set to be executed in Alabama next week for the shooting deaths of three police officers in 2004. The case is raising alarm for activists and citizens because Woods didn’t actually pull the trigger on the cops, and the case against him is reportedly full of inconsistencies.
The prosecutors in Woods’ case concede that he was not the gunman in the shooting of officers Carlos “Curly” Owen, Harley Chisholm III, and Charles Bennett, but claim he was an accomplice to their murders. According to police reports, the gunman was Kerry Spencer, a friend of Woods, and Woods was charged as his accomplice — a crime punishable by death in Alabama.
The fatal events happened on June 17, 2004, writes The Appeal:
Three police officers were shot dead at a drug house on the west side of Birmingham, Alabama. It was a ghastly scene. Officer Charles Bennett lay on his back near the front door with a bullet wound in his face; the semi-automatic rifle that had inflicted it lay strewn nearby. Inside, officers Carlos “Curly” Owen and Harley Chisholm III were sprawled out on the kitchen floor.
One officer, Michael Collins, had run away and survived. He told his colleagues at the Birmingham Police Department that Kerry Spencer and Nathaniel Woods, lifelong friends who had been dealing and using drugs at the pea green one-story house in the Ensley section of the city, were responsible for the killings. Spencer was the shooter but he had not acted alone, police alleged. Woods was charged as an accomplice; in Alabama that’s a capital offense punishable by death.
In 2005 during his trial, prosecutors told the jury that Woods was a cop hater who was the masterminded behind the plan to have the three officers killed. They called witnesses who claimed they overheard him expressing his hatred for the police, and also called on Collins, the officer who escaped the shooting.
Woods’ defense attorneys reportedly say important information was left out at the trial, including claims that the officers killed were accused of profiting off the drug trade in Birmingham for years, taking bribes from dealers. According to reports, one of those dealers, Tyran Cooper, who operated the drug house that Woods and Spencer were in on the day of the murders, was supposed to testify at Woods’ trial but did not. Cooper told The Appeal he owed the officers money. At Woods’ trial, Spencer testified that the officers had come to the house earlier in the day looking for Cooper. He claimed that he and Woods feared for their lives, and one of the cops was attacking him when he shot. Spencer testified that Woods did not pull the trigger — a fact that hasn’t been disputed by anyone from law enforcement or the district attorney’s office — and that Woods is “100 percent innocent” of the murders.
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Woods’ current attorneys also claim that his lawyers at the time fed their client misinformation about a crucial plea deal that was offered. The Appeal outlines the details:
After Spencer was sentenced to death, then-Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber offered Woods a plea deal that would have resulted in a 20- to 25-year prison sentence. But Woods refused the deal because his attorneys told him the state had to prove he pulled the trigger for him to be convicted of capital murder. This was not true under Alabama law, but Woods trusted his attorneys’ word, according to his 2017 habeas petition. “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,” reads the filing.
Woods’ defense teams are slated to appear in court on his behalf on Wednesday in an attempt to delay his execution another 30 days. If they are not successful, Governor Kay Ivey would need to intervene by commuting his sentence. Kerry Spencer, the man who did pull the trigger on the officers, is still on death row awaiting appeal.