Nathaniel Woods executed in Alabama after Supreme Court denies stay

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey refused to step in and stop the lethal injection.

March 6, 2020, 12:46 AM

The controversial execution of Nathaniel Woods was carried out late Thursday in Alabama just minutes after the Supreme Court denied a temporary stay, issued only hours earlier.

Woods was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. local time, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Advocates had argued Woods, who was convicted in the murder of three police officers in 2004, did not directly take part in the slayings and should have his execution delayed.

The decision came after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey reviewed the letter requesting a reprieve from the death sentence, but said she would allow the execution to proceed.

"Governor Ivey does not presently intend to exercise her powers of commutation or reprieve in this case," general counsel William G. Parker Jr. wrote. "While Governor Ivey reserves the right to grant clemency at any time before an execution is carried out, she has determined, based on her review of the complete record, including the matters presented in your letter, that clemency for Mr. Woods at this hour is unwarranted."

Woods, 44, was killed by lethal injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama.

"The fight is far from over. Nathaniel is an innocent man, and that will always be the truth. We are not giving up," the family said in a statement provided to ABC News.

Supporters were calling for Ivey to grant a reprieve. As of Thursday morning, Ivey offered no sign that she would intervene in Williams' case and it appeared the execution would go as planned.

PHOTO: Nathaniel Woods in an undated photo from the Alabama Dept. of Corrections.
Nathaniel Woods in an undated photo from the Alabama Dept. of Corrections. Martin Luther King, III, the son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as family members of Woods, a condemned Alabama inmate, are asking the governor to to stop his execution. Woods is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, March 5, 2020. Woods and co-defendant Kerry Spencer were convicted of capital murder for the 2004 killings of three Birmingham police officers.
Alabama Dept. of Corrections via AP

But late Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a temporary stay in the minutes leading up to the execution of Woods, who was convicted of capital murder in the 2004 killings of three Birmingham, Alabama, police officers.

He already requested his final meal of sweet potatoes, spinach, chicken patty, chicken leg quarter, cooked apples, fries, two oranges and orange flavored drink, according to a statement from Alabama Department of Corrections. However, he only took one bite of the chicken and left the rest of his meal untouched, the statement read.

Woods also made calls earlier that day to his father, sister, daughter and mother, as well as friends. His imam was expected to be the only person present at the execution.

After Woods was put to death, the son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., who had joined a chorus of calls to halt the execution, called it a "mockery of justice."

"In the case of Nathaniel Woods, the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Governor of the State of Alabama are reprehensible, and have potentially contributed to an irreversible injustice," Martin Luther King III wrote in a post on Twitter. "It makes a mockery of justice and constitutional guarantees to a fair trial."

A spokeswoman with the Alabama Department of Corrections told ABC News that the execution warrant did not run out until 11:59 p.m., meaning they had until then to carry out the execution once the court decided to lift the temporary stay.

On Tuesday, King sent a letter to Ivey, a Republican, reading, "I stand with hundreds of thousands of Americans across Alabama and the nation, pleading with you not to execute Nathaniel Woods."

In his letter, King, who was born in Alabama, told Ivey her state was "set to kill a man who is very likely innocent."

King told Fox News Thursday, "If a person is innocent, they should not be killed in this country. People have been killed and [hanged] for doing nothing. And in this context, if that is the prospect, we ought to at least go through the facts, go through the information, give the system the opportunity to work if it did not work."

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 91,000 people had signed a petition on the website to stop the execution of Woods, who would become the first person executed in Alabama this year and the 67th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Ivey noted two Alabama citizens had been executed since 1983 as being accomplices to capital murder.

Woods' alleged accomplice, Kerry Spencer, confessed to being the sole gunman who killed the officers with a high-powered weapon, but separate juries convicted him and Woods of four capital murder charges, including killing the officers in the course of committing another crime.

"The state offered the testimony of 39 witnesses at Woods' capital murder trial, including Officer Michael Collins, 25 other law enforcement officers, and forensic experts," Ivey wrote in a lengthy statement announcing Woods' execution. "There is no evidence, and no argument has been made, that Nathaniel Woods tried to stop the gunman from committing these heinous crimes. In fact, he later bragged about his participation in these horrific murders. As such, the jury did not view Woods' acts as those of an innocent bystander; they believed that he was a fully engaged participant."

PHOTO: Gov. Kay Ivey gives the State of the State Address to a joint session of the Alabama Legislature, Feb. 4, 2020, in the old house chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.
Gov. Kay Ivey gives the State of the State Address to a joint session of the Alabama Legislature, Feb. 4, 2020, in the old house chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.
Vasha Hunt/AP, FILE

Spencer's trial was held before Woods' case was heard by a jury, but his execution date has yet to be set.

During both trials, prosecutors presented the juries the theory that Woods and Spencer acted in tandem to lure the officers into the apartment to kill them.

On June 17, 2004, Birmingham police officers Carlos Owen, Harley Chisholm III and Charles Bennett were shot to death while executing a misdemeanor assault warrant for Woods at a suspected crack house in Birmingham. A fourth officer was also shot, but survived and testified against Woods.

A jury convicted Woods in December 2005, and in a nonunanimous verdict of 10-2 recommended a sentence of death.

Chisholm's sister has come out against the execution, saying in a statement to ABC News provided by Wood's family: "I am writing to express my sincere wishes for Governor Ivey to stop the execution of Nathaniel Woods. I am the sister of Harley Chisholm III. I do not think that Nathaniel is guilty of murder. I urge Governor Ivey to reconsider her decision not to intervene."

"There is no harm in allowing more time for the courts to investigate," the statement added. "I want the new evidence to be brought forward and evaluated by new attorneys. Please do not move forward with the hasty decision to execute Nathaniel. My conscience will not let me live with this if he dies. I beg you to have mercy on him."

Alabama State Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Wednesday that Woods was "correctly found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers."

"The only injustice in the case of Nathaniel Woods is that which was inflicted on those four policemen that terrible day in 2004," Marshall said in the statement.

Woods appealed his conviction, arguing his lawyer gave him inadequate representation by misinforming him that he could not be convicted of capital murder as an accomplice and convincing him to reject a plea deal prosecutors offered him of 20 to 25 years in prison, according to court records.

"A jury of Mr. Woods' peers convicted him of four counts of capital murder," Ivey wrote Thursday night. "In the past 15 years, his conviction has been reviewed at least nine times, and no court has found any reason to overturn the jury's decision."

Woods' appeal was denied by the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his letter to Ivey, King stated that Woods "has never had a fair trial" and has not gotten the opportunity to present new evidence since his conviction bolstering his claim that Spencer acted alone and that there was never a plan to lure the officers into an ambush.

The case has also garnered the attention of celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, who has become an advocate for criminal justice reform. She tweeted Thursday, Woods "is scheduled to be executed in Alabama TONIGHT for murders he did NOT commit. Join the broad coalition- including members of the jury and relatives of the victims – in urging @GovernorKayIvey and @AGSteveMarshall to stay Nate's execution."

Following Ivey's inaction, which allowed Woods' execution to proceed, West said her heart goes out to Woods' family and those who worked to "save his life."

"This is a tragic example of injustice in the system," she tweeted. "Nate will die for a crime another man confessed to and says Nate had nothing to do with."

West met with President Donald Trump Wednesday at the White House to talk criminal justice reform along with women the president recently commuted.