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MLK III Seeks Stay from Alabama Governor, Says Execution of Nathaniel Woods May ‘Produce an Irreversible Injustice’

UPDATE (3/6/20): Nathaniel Woods, 43, was put to death at an Alabama prison Thursday evening just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court granted a temporary stay on his execution for a last-minute review of his case.

Woods was convicted in the 2004 killings of three Birmingham police officers and sentenced to death, despite not being the shooter.

UPDATE (3/5/20): The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in Thursday to grant a temporary stay in the execution of inmate Nathaniel Woods. Woods, 43, was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at a southern Alabama prison.

ORIGINAL STORY: The eldest son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. is pleading with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to halt the execution of an inmate convicted in the killings of three police officers in 2004.

Martin Luther King III (right) was among many who advocated for a stay on the scheduled execution of Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods. (Photos: Alabama Dept. of Corrections and Paras Griffin / Getty Images)
Martin Luther King III (right) was among many who advocated for a stay on the scheduled execution of Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods. (Photos: Alabama Dept. of Corrections and Paras Griffin / Getty Images)

In a letter sent Tuesday, March 3, Martin Luther King III asked Ivey to intervene on behalf of condemned inmate Nathaniel Woods, who’s scheduled to receive lethal injection at an Alabama prison Thursday evening, TIME reports. Relatives of Woods, 43, have also asked the governor for a reprieve.

A jury in 2005 convicted Woods and co-defendant Kerry Spencer of capital murder in the 2004 slayings of Birmingham cops Charles R. Bennett, Harley A. Chisholm, and Carlos Owen. The pair were also charged with attempted murder in the shooting of a fourth officer who survived the attack.

While prosecutors acknowledge Spencer was the sole shooter, they accused Woods of conspiring to lure officers into an ambush where they were killed in a barrage of gunfire. The assault unfolded as officers were attempting to serve a misdemeanor domestic assault warrant on Woods, according to the newsmagazine.

Both Woods, 43, and Spencer, who’s still serving time on death row, were sentenced to death for their crimes. However, advocates for Woods have maintained his innocence. 

“Killing this African-American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice,” King wrote in his letter to Ivey. “Are you willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?”

A U.S. district judge denied Woods’ request for a stay on his death sentence earlier this week, and the Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2019. His attorneys had previously argued ineffective counsel and pointed to errors at Woods’ trial, including the admission of violent song lyrics and drawings in his cell.

Relatives of the condemned Alabama inmate visited the state capital on Wednesday in a final attempt to stop the execution.

“We really just want people to see that he really is innocent, that he didn’t have anything to do with the murders of those officers,” his sister, Pamela Woods, told “It was very unfortunate that the shooter did what he did,” she added. “But the main point is that Nathaniel had no parts in those actions of another man, Kerry Spencer.”

A letter also delivered by Molly Cole, an advocate for Woods, called the deaths of the officers “an unimaginable, senseless tragedy. But Nathaniel did not do it. There are so many flaws and questions with his trial that we cannot move forward with executing him.”

State officials beg to differ. Attorney General Steve Marshall made his own plea to the governor’s office this week, urging Ivey to reject what he called an “eleventh-hour request” to “save a cop killer. The truth is ‘set to die’: Nathaniel Woods was correctly found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers, and that sentence is set to be carried out; that is, justice is set to be carried out,” Marshall said in a statement.

Ivey has yet to release a statement on Woods’ case.

The Alabama man is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. Thursday at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. 

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