LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – The man charged with crashing into and killing Louisville Metro Police Officer Nick Rodman during a March 2017 police chase pleaded guilty Friday to murder, assault and other charges and agreed to a sentence of 35 years in prison.
Wathaniel Woods, 37, pleaded guilty to murder, possession of a handgun by felon, assault, wanton endangerment, drug trafficking, fleeing police, DUI and persistent felony offender among other charges.
Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Barry Willett accepted the plea. Woods, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, is not eligible for probation.
Formal sentencing has been scheduled for June. The courtroom was packed with police officers, including Chief Steve Conrad, as well as Rodman's family.
Woods showed little emotion and only spoke when answering questions from Judge Willett, saying, "Yes, sir," several times.
Prosecutors and Wood's defense attorney declined to comment until after the sentencing.
Woods was drunk, on drugs and driving nearly 80 miles an hour in west Louisville while fleeing police on March 28 of last year when he struck Rodman's police cruiser as he was trying to make a left turn at a green light at 26th and Duncan, causing the car to burst into flames.
Rodman was attempting to join a car chase in pursuit of Woods. The officer died in the hospital the next day.
Police were originally called about Woods in reference to a domestic violence call at a home on Madison Street. He had been arguing with the mother of his child when he punched, pushed her and fired gunshots before fleeing.
In a jail phone call days after his arrest, Woods said he had almost escaped when Rodman “pulled some hero s**t (and) crashed into me,” according to court records.
“He could’ve killed me,” Woods said on April 5, 2017 to an unnamed female in one of five recorded jail phone calls. “I almost died too.”
But in other calls on the same day, Woods also expressed regret, saying he “didn’t intend to kill” Rodman.
“I send my condolences to his family, cause it wasn’t intentional,” he said. “I can’t get caught with a pistol. I knew what I had to do, to do that.”
Woods’ claim that Rodman crashed into him were refuted by eyewitness reports in the case.
Officer Kody Despain, for example, testified in an internal investigation that Woods never slowed down when he ran a light and hit Rodman.
"I didn’t even see brake lights,” Despain said, according to a transcript of his interview. "By the time Nick had pulled out, (Woods) hit him so hard I saw Nick’s car jump up in the air with the suspect’s."
In another jail call, Woods told a woman, "I was getting chased, and you know he’s doing his job. I’m doing mine. Of course you know I can’t stand getting caught with no pistol or nothing.
"… I did what we do, until we get rid of what we got and then we give up and take fleeing and evading and all that. That’s what we do."
Inside the 2005 Lexus Woods was driving, police found a .45 caliber Glock handgun, crack cocaine packaged for sale, digital scales and several cell phones, according to police.
Woods said in a call from jail that he swallowed packages of cocaine during the chase.
Included in the evidence are videos showing Rodman’s cruiser being struck and the frantic efforts of officers trying to save him as flames engulfed the vehicle.
LMPD has said the chase was justified because Woods had committed a violent felony.
Rodman, who had his emergency lights on, was driving between 32 and 42 miles per hour, according to records.
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