Advocates Urging Alabama Governor to Halt Execution of Nathaniel Woodsby Jessica Corbett, staff writer March 6, 2020
The state of Alabama on Thursday executed Nathaniel Woods—who was pronounced dead at 9:01pm local time—after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution that was later lifted and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey declined to exercise her powers of commutation or reprieve despite widespread public outcry, doubts about Woods’ guilt, and concerns about the legal proceedings that led to his death sentence.
“In the case of Nathaniel Woods, the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the governor of the state of Alabama are reprehensible, and have potentially contributed to an irreversible injustice,” Martin Luther King III, one of the civil rights activists who helped bring national attention to the case, declared on Twitter. “It makes a mockery of justice and constitutional guarantees to a fair trial.”
Writer and activist Shaun King was also among the high-profile figures who urged Ivey and the courts to intervene to #SaveNate. In a series of tweets Thursday night, King denounced the execution as “a modern day lynching” of “an innocent man,” given that Woods was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of three police officers even though he was not the person who fired the fatal gunshots in the 2004 confrontation.
Civil rights groups and the son of Martin Luther King Jr. are calling on Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey to halt the execution of 44-year-old Nathaniel Woods, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday evening despite serious questions about his guilt and serious concerns about the legal process that led to his sentence.
Unless Ivey or the courts intervene, Woods is set to be killed at 6pm local time at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. Martin Luther King III appeared on MSNBC‘s “Morning Joe” and CNN Thursday to draw attention to the planned execution and pressure the governor to stop it:
After his request for a private call was allegedly denied, King on Tuesday sent Ivey a letter, which he also shared on Twitter. Recalling how the state treated his father and fellow civil rights advocates during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, King warned Ivey that “under your watch, Alabama is about to produce yet another injustice.”
“Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice,” King added. “Are you willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?”
King and the King Center, along with other individuals and organizations, have taken to Twitter in recents days to increase pressure on the governor, tweeting with the hashtag #SaveNate:
The Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongly convicted, highlighted that Woods’ co-defendant, who is also on death row, told The Appeal in February: “Nate ain’t done nothing. …My n**** is actually 100 percent innocent. All he did that day was get beat up and he ran.”
The Associated Press reported on the details of the case Thursday:
Woods and Kerry Spencer were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in the slayings of the three Birmingham officers that rocked Alabama’s largest city that year. Carlos Owen, Harley A. Chisholm III, and Charles R. Bennett died in the gunfire while trying to serve a misdemeanor domestic assault warrant on Woods at a suspected drug house.
Prosecutors argued Woods helped set an ambush and should die for the killings even though he did not pull the trigger on the high-powered rifle that killed the men. Such convictions are allowed under state law, and other people have been executed for “non-triggerman” slayings. A jury recommended Woods receive the death penalty by a 10-2 vote.
Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a Montgomery, Alabama-based organization fighting to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment nationwide. The group’s deputy director, Randy Susskind, told the New York Times on Thursday that “historically, unanimity has been a hallmark of our jury system.”
“In a death penalty case,” Susskind added, “where the jury is tasked with deciding whether someone should live or die—and they’re the conscience of the community, and they have already convicted the defendant of capital murder—the idea that the state is unable to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt is a pretty important factor.”
EJI has worked to shine a spotlight on the concerns surrounding Woods’ case. The group has noted that “in addition to the concerns about his culpability, the appropriateness of his sentence, and the lack of adequate appellate review in the case due to the abandonment by appellate counsel, there are serious questions about the date of the scheduled execution.”
Chief U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Alabama Emily Marks on Monday dismissed Woods’ request for a stay of execution. Woods’ petition accused the state of engaging in “unlawful and unconstitutional” actions, and claimed that he was “targeted” by the state to be killed earlier than other inmates because he did not opt in to a newly approved but unused execution method.
“Woods’ attorneys on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution over what they said was a lack of information given to inmates when they had to decide whether nitrogen hypoxia—an execution method authorized but not yet implemented by the state—would be their preferred execution method,” the AP reported. “Woods didn’t pick a method. Attorneys said inmates did not know that would affect the timing of their execution.”
The state set Woods’ execution date earlier this year, after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down another appeal by the inmate last year. Members of Woods’ family have maintained that he is innocent and worked to save his life. The Times noted that his sister Pamela Woods attended a recent celebration of the 55th anniversary of the march in Selma to recruit civil rights activists to her brother’s cause.
Pamela Woods—joined by their father, Nathaniel Woods Sr.—spoke about the case on the steps of the state Capitol Wednesday, after Woods’ advocate Molly Cole delivered letters Ivey’s office asking her to halt the execution.
“I stand here speaking on his behalf to say that what happened to those officers is not his fault,” Pamela Woods said Wednesday, according to Al.com. “And that’s not something he’d wish on them. It’s not something he planned. It’s not something he schemed. He didn’t lure anybody.”
“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,” she said. “We do feel really bad for what happened that day. We don’t wish that on anyone, for their family to have to deal with that. It was very unfortunate that the shooter did what he did. But the main point is that Nathaniel had no parts in those actions of another man, Kerry Spencer.”
The AP reported that “no execution date has been set for Spencer, who was convicted before Woods and is on death row at Holman prison.”