Man who shot, killed Montgomery police officer loses appeal

Man who shot, killed Montgomery police officer loses appeal
Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The man found guilty of murdering on-duty Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts has lost a bid to overturn his conviction in the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Attorney General Steve Marshall says.

Mario Woodward was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to death for Houts' murder two years prior. Monday's ruling upholds his capital murder conviction and death sentence.

Houts was on routine patrol on Sept. 28, 2006, when he made a traffic stop of a car driven by Woodward in north Montgomery. He entered the license plate of the Chevrolet Impala into a mobile data terminal, then got out of his car and approached the vehicle.

The dash camera inside Houts' patrol car was recording as he approached the waiting driver. Evidence shown at trial indicates Houts reached the vehicle and was shot in the jaw. The bullet traveled through Houts' neck, then severed his spine. The injury caused him to instantly collapse into the road beside the suspect's car.

"Even after the killer's first shot cut down his victim, he proceeded to shoot the fallen officer four more times," AG Marshall said of Woodward.

Evidence showed the car Woodward was driving belonged to his girlfriend but that he'd been using it. After the shooting, Woodward asked his girlfriend and a friend of hers to take him to Birmingham.

It was during that trip that prosecutors say he confessed to them he'd shot a police officer. He then made a phone call trying to get rid of the vehicle and then threw something from the vehicle. The friend identified the object as a gun.

Prosecutors say once in Birmingham, Woodward met another friend and fled the state. He's said to have destroyed evidence and confessed his crime to another person along the way.

When a deputy federal marshal arrested Woodward at an Atlanta gas station, he reacted "What's going on? I didn't shoot nobody."

Records from cell phone towers later confirmed calls made from Woodward's cell phone at various locations, including that he was in north Montgomery at the time and area where the police officer was killed.

Woodward went to trial in 2008 under a capital murder charge, brought because Officer Houts was on-duty when he was killed and because the murder occurred by shooting from inside a vehicle.

After Woodward's conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal, he raised new claims in state court, primarily that his attorneys were ineffective for failing to present certain evidence during the guilt and penalty phases of his trial. It was later determined through the appeals process that Woodward did receive a fair trial with effective counsel.

"The death penalty is a fitting punishment for Mario Woodward's evil actions," Marshall said. "This case is a tragic reminder of the debt we owe to law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day."

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