Yesterday was another sad day for African Americans in America. The state of Alabama executed Nathaniel Woods, an African-American prisoner, who was convicted of capital murder for the 2004 killings of three police officers. Woods and co-defendant, Kerry Spencer, were sentenced to death for killing Birmingham police officers Carlos Owen, Harley Chisholm, and Charles Bennett as they swarmed a suspected drug house.
Despite a national outcry to stop the execution, Woods was put to death by lethal injection, and he did not give a final statement. Spencer is currently still on death row.
Woods’ execution gained some last-minute hope: The supreme court issued a temporary stay to review final appeals, which launched a public celebration by his family, but the court later denied Woods’ petitions. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey rejected a request for clemency and refused to stop the controversial execution.
“This is not a decision that I take lightly, but I firmly believe in the rule of law and that justice must be served,” Ivey said in a statement after the execution. Woods was pronounced dead at 9 pm local time.
Alabama state attorney general Steve Marshall rejected calls to halt the execution, insisting “justice is set to be carried out” because Woods was “correctly found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers.”
Woods was convicted in 2005 of capital murder, but there were questions about his culpability, his representation at trial, and his co-defendant, Kerry Spencer, said Woods was innocent.
In a phone interview from William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Spencer told CNN that he alone fatally shot the three officers in 2004 when they stormed the crack house where he was sleeping. A fourth officer was shot but survived.
Woods wasn’t involved, he said. In fact, Spencer noted, Woods ran when the gunfire erupted. “Nate is absolutely innocent,” said Spencer, who also is on Alabama’s death row. “That man didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody just like I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody that day, period.”
“I told them [investigators] Nate didn’t shoot nobody. Nate ran. Nate didn’t even have a f***ing gun,” Spencer added. “Nate is a good guy. Nate ain’t no killer. The reason Nate was down there in the dope house with us is because he needed money,” Spencer said.
Prior to Woods being executed, many advocates and celebrities called for Governor Ivey to intervene.
On Tuesday, Alabama senator Doug Jones shared via Twitter: “Late this afternoon, I reached out to Governor Ivey’s office and expressed my concerns about the Nathaniel Woods case to her Chief of Staff. I think everyone knows my background and that I believe strongly in justice. Given the questions and mitigating issues involved in this case – and the finality of a death sentence – a delay is warranted to provide time for a thorough review of all the facts and circumstances to truly ensure that justice is done.”
Martin Luther King III, an activist and the son of the civil rights leader, sent Ivey a letter “pleading with [her] not to execute” Woods. “Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice,” he said.
King, who also called for people to make phone calls to the governor, also questioned whether Ivey is “willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?”
House of Representative member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for America to “abolish the death penalty,” and Kim Kardashian West, an advocate for criminal justice reform, said the case was “a tragic example of injustice in the system.”
Woods’ sister was a huge proponent in the fight to stop his execution. She called on prominent leaders, who were set to visit the state to commemorate the 55th anniversary of a civil rights protest march from Selma to Montgomery known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Woods’ supporters also point to a joint investigation between The Appeal and the Alabama Media Group that uncovered several accusations of police misconduct involving Woods’ case. They argue Woods had insufficient counsel who ignored a trial riddled with errors, including the admission of rap lyrics and police-car drawings found in his cell as he awaited trial.
There were no comments from presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump also did not intervene in the case. Below are some other comments in support of Woods, which you can also view here.
This INJUSTICE system is racist, sexist & xenophobic. The #trauma inflicted on #NathanielWoods’ family will last for generations. We need a system that centers shared power, freedom, equality, safety & dignity. We need a People’s #JusticeGuarantee ➡️ https://t.co/SidZt3KcNc https://t.co/z7PE8piqX7
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) March 6, 2020
The state of Alabama murdered Nathaniel Woods. pic.twitter.com/z5JlHvJllk
— Caren (@carenculture) March 6, 2020
What Clarence Thomas did yesterday in issuing and then lifting the stay of execution for Nathaniel Woods was the most unspeakable cruelty for him and for his family – his sister, his children. https://t.co/DreQsEJJfX
— Rebecca Kavanagh (@DrRJKavanagh) March 6, 2020
The execution of Nathaniel Woods, a man who may well have been innocent, shows exactly how capital punishment is devastatingly abhorrent.
— Lincoln Chafee (@LincolnChafee) March 6, 2020
.@DougJones would not be in the US Senate without the support of BLACK PEOPLE…
The #NathanielWoods case tested whether he would stand for Black people against injustice…
He doesn’t deserve Black people’s votes.#RIPNateWoods
— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) March 6, 2020
Alabama is about to execute Nathaniel Woods. The death penalty is wrong, but it’s especially unjust for the government to take someone’s life when he wasn’t the shooter, the sentencing was not unanimous, and significant questions remain about culpability. https://t.co/i5chfM6t3H
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 5, 2020