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He Never Touched the Murder Weapon. Alabama Sentenced Him to Die.



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He got a job driving a forklift at a Piggly Wiggly warehouse, where his father was a foreman, but it didn’t stick. Now he was 28, with three young children and a job selling drugs in an operation taking in $3,000 a day.

His work partner and friend Kerry Spencer, 23, had followed a similar path. He, too, had left school, had worked at the Piggly Wiggly warehouse and had young children. But he was also snorting $350 worth of cocaine a day, and was usually armed.

This wasn’t warehouse work, after all. Just two months earlier, in April 2004, their boss, Mr. Cooper, had helped set a Birmingham corner aglow with gunfire during a dispute that left two people wounded. He was arrested a short while later in his bullet-riddled white Buick.

For all the drugs and bullets, life at the 18th Street apartment passed without police interruption, Mr. Spencer would later testify. “Everyone around us was getting busted, but we never got touched,” he would say.

Except the police were now at the back door.

Officer Carlos Owen, 58, was a Birmingham Police Department fixture assigned to patrol the Ensley streets he knew so well. Though he was a graying grandfather with plans to retire in two years, everyone called him by a nickname based on an old hairstyle: Curly.

In his 26 years on the job, he had been shot at three times, bitten by a dog once and involved in too many chases to remember. He had led the police union and been repeatedly honored for his police work, including as Officer of the Year in 2002.

“He epitomized the community policing idea,” Bill Lowe, an Ensley business owner, would later tell The Birmingham News. He added: “He knew where the good guys were and where the bad guys were.”

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