On a recent Thursday, Nathaniel Woods took a single bite of a chicken leg quarter, then placed it back on his plate. The rest of the meal – sweet potatoes, spinach, chicken patty, baked apples, fries, two oranges, and an orange-flavored drink – he left untouched. Later that night, the state of Alabama killed him.
Woods was never accused of murdering anyone. Nevertheless, in 2005, a jury convicted him of being an accomplice in the series of events a year prior that left three Birmingham police officers dead. That same jury voted 10-2 to impose the death penalty on Woods, a sentence that was carried out Thursday, March 5, 2020. While executions of those convicted of being mere accomplices to murder are very rare, Alabama is the only state that does not require a unanimous jury decision to impose the death penalty.
As the fateful hour of Woods’s execution at the hands of the state drew near, a crescendo of voices cried out for a reprieve. A petition pleading for mercy on Woods’s behalf continued to circulate feverishly, joined by voices of celebrities such as Martin Luther King III, Kim Kardashian West, and even O.J. Simpson, among others. Kimberly Chisholm Simmons, the sister of one of the officers killed, attempted to reach Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to plead for a commutation of Woods’s sentence. In a public statement, she said, in part, “I do not think that Nathaniel is guilty of murder. ... My conscience will not let me live with this if he dies. I beg you to have mercy on him.” She was told Gov. Ivey was in a meeting.
Hope swelled in the early evening when word broke that the United States Supreme Court had issued a temporary stay of execution, signed by Justice Clarence Thomas, to allow time to review the case. This hope was dashed when the Supreme Court lifted its stay, without further comment, just after 8pm. With no further legal obstacles remaining, the state of Alabama moved quickly: Woods’s life was extinguished by lethal injection less than an hour later.
The tragic case of Nathaniel Woods offers us an especially painful example of the deep flaws inherent in not only this unjust method of punishment, but in its uneven application. This barbarous practice must be consigned to the dustbin of history, and replaced with more humane and effective alternatives. Please sign up for updates as we continue this somber and necessary work in Nebraska, and consider a donation to help us as we advance the cause of justice.