Advocates including Martin Luther King III and Kim Kardashian West sought to stop state from putting man to death
By Kenya Evelyn, The Guardian
Alabama has executed Nathaniel Woods, a prisoner convicted of capital murder for the 2004 killings of three police officers, despite a national outcry over his case.
The execution by lethal injection came after the US supreme court issued a temporary stay to consider last-minute appeals and then denied the inmate’s petitions. Alabama governor Kay Ivey denied a request for clemency.
“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 9pm local time.
Advocates have, for weeks, called for the state’s governor to intervene. On Tuesday Alabama senator Doug Jones shared via Twitter that he “expressed [his] concerns”.
My statement on the Nathaniel Woods case: pic.twitter.com/HSiVCtWNcE
— Archived: Senator Doug Jones (@SenDougJones) March 6, 2020
Earlier in the day, the son of Martin Luther King Jr joined a growing list of activists and celebrities calling on Alabama governor Kay Ivey to stop the planned execution.
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.
He said: “Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice.”
King went on to question whether Ivey is “willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?” Later on Twitter he called for people to make phone calls to the governor in support of the cause.
We need to make as many calls as possible now! Once you dial this number, we'll guide you through the calls. Remember, be respectful, be kind, but be firm. These calls matter. Help us stop Nate's wrongful execution.
Call: (334) 605-8572
— Martin Luther King III (@OfficialMLK3) March 5, 2020
The execution proceeded despite the co-defendant, Kerry Spencer, supporting Woods’ innocence. The pair were sentenced to death for killing Birmingham police officers Carlos Owen, Harley Chisholm and Charles Bennett as they swarmed a suspected drug house.
At the time, the prosecution alleged Spencer opened fire after Woods told officers he was surrendering, making Woods a willful accomplice – a crime punishable by death in Alabama. One officer who survived testified he saw Spencer standing in the doorway and shooting in his direction.
The news of Woods’ death was met with condemnation from prominent figures including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called for America to “abolish the death penalty”, and Kim Kardashian West, an advocate for criminal justice reform, who said the case was “a tragic example of injustice in the system”.
The court has lifted the temporary stay of execution for #NathanielWoods. The governor will NOT save his life. My heart and prayers are with Nate and his family.
This is a tragic example of injustice in the system- in a few minutes Nate may die for a crime he did not commit. pic.twitter.com/mZPV7D8PPg
— Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian) March 6, 2020
Authorities say Spencer was the lone gunman. He also confessed to the crime in a handwritten letter provided by his attorneys this week.
Spencer wrote in the letter: “Nathaniel Woods is 100% innocent. I know this to be a fact because I’m the person that shot and killed all three of the officers.”
Spencer was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. No execution date has been set for him.
Momentum over Woods’ case had been building after his sister 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”.
PLEASE HELP ME SAVE THE LIFE OF MY BROTHER, NATHANIEL WOODS. READ THE FACTS OF HIS CASE AND ASK YOURSELF IF HE SHOULD TO BE EXECUTED ON MARCH 5TH 2020. HELP ME FREE HIM FROM THE INJUSTICE IN ALABAMA! @MeritLaw @shaunking https://t.co/CZIVfyLmGU
— Pamela Woods (@pamelapwoods) February 20, 2020
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.
In a statement released Wednesday, Alabama state attorney general Steve Marshall rejected growing 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”.
“The only injustice in the case of Nathaniel Woods is that which was inflicted on those four policemen that terrible day in 2004,” the statement read.
Ivey’s offices did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment. The US supreme court turned down Woods’ appeal last year.
Woods’s attorneys also challenged the 11th US circuit court of appeals over the drugs used to administer the execution.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.