March 5, 2020 / 12:10 PM / a month ago

Alabama to execute man convicted of killing three police officers in 2004

(Reuters) - An Alabama man is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday for his role in the 2004 killing of three police officers at his apartment where they were attempting to arrest him for dealing drugs.

Nathaniel Woods, 43, will be put to death at 6 p.m. CST (0000 GMT) at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. Woods and his friend Kerry Spencer were convicted for the 2004 murders of Birmingham police officers Carlos Owen, Harley Chisholm and Charles Bennett.

On Thursday, attorneys for Woods filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution so that a challenge of his case could be heard.

Woods would be the first inmate in Alabama and the fifth in the United States to be executed in 2020. Alabama executed four inmates in 2019, the Death Penalty Information Center said.

On the morning of July 17, 2004, Woods and Spencer got into a “hostile, profanity-laced” argument with Owen and police officer Michael Collins and threatened them, court documents showed.

Later that day, the officers along with Chisholm and Bennett went to Woods’ apartment to serve him a warrant and arrest him for dealing drugs. In a brief chaotic encounter, the officers were met by a spray of gunfire, court documents showed.

Owen, Chisholm and Bennett were killed and Collins was wounded.

Prosecutors said Spencer was the gunman, but accused Woods of being an accomplice to the murders. In December 2005, Woods and Spencer were convicted of capital murder and attempted murder and sentenced to death. Spencer remains on death row.

In a series of unsuccessful appeals in state and federal court, attorneys for Woods argued their client rejected a plea deal with prosecutors after his trial lawyer led him to believe that he would not face the death penalty because the state could not prove that he was the gunman.

“This belief was based on trial counsel’s failure to effectively and fully explain the theory of accomplice liability to Mr. Woods,” his attorney wrote in a 2019 petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, wrote a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, asking her to intervene.

“Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice,” he wrote in the letter he posted on Twitter.

The office of the governor did not comment.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker

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