For a country whose citizens brag about “freedom and justice and equality for all,” America loves murdering people. Tonight, the state of Alabama killed Nate Woods via lethal injection after Governor Kay Ivey rejected his request for clemency. Despite Nate’s unwavering claims of innocence (though you know I don’t believe anyone should be killed by the state, innocent or “guilty”), the gunman’s own testimony stating he never pulled a trigger, a non-unanimous jury ruling, and one of the victims’ families requesting Nate’s life be spared, he was rushed through an execution that ended his life at 9:01 p.m.
In 2005, Nate Woods was convicted of capital murder following the shooting deaths of three Birmingham police officers in 2004: Charles Bennett, Carlos “Curly” Owen, and Harley Chisholm III. Even though he did not shoot any of the cops, under Alabama’s accomplice law (code 13A-2-23), Woods is held equally responsible for the actions of the person who fired the gun and his friend, Kerry Spencer. Woods and Spencer were at a known drug house when the altercation occurred: a night plagued with conflicting stories from Woods/Spencer’s side and the side of Birmingham PD. During Spencer’s trial, he said that the cops had harassed people at the house that day and that when they returned, they were assaulting Woods. During their struggle, Spencer, fearing for himself and his friend, shot all three of the cops. Although the events of the night weren’t planned, the prosecution created an alternative reality for the jury where Nate Woods lured the cops to the house so they could be shot. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, “Prosecutors successfully argued he [Woods] ‘conspired’ with the shooter, Kerry Spencer, in killing the officers and was therefore equally culpable in their deaths. Spencer last month told the news outlet The Appeal that Woods was not involved and there ‘was no plan to kill the police.’
Court documents showed a vast range of corruption in the police force, as Chisholm and Owen were known for profiting off the growing drug trade. According to a 2017 federal petition for habeas corpus filed for Woods, the cops “‘had a reputation for corruption and violence’ and collected payments from drug dealers in the neighborhood in exchange for helping their businesses thrive,” which was confirmed by Tyler Cooper, a dealer who ran his business through the house and paid both of the officers “to protect my drug business and to make sure that no one else sold drugs in my area of Birmingham.” The Appeal’s article also states “Following the shooting, Cooper said a Birmingham police detective told his ex-wife that he would ‘bury’ Cooper if he cooperated with Spencer’s defense and testified about the payoffs, according to the filing.” Because of the cops’ threats, Cooper did not show up to testify at Woods’ or Spencer’s trials, despite being the defense’s main witness.
During Spencer’s trial, he testified that Chisholm and Owen were also messing with him and Woods, with the former even going so far as to say, on the morning of the shooting, that he would come back with a body bag for each of the men. Spencer was sentenced to death by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tommy Nail, despite the jury’s recommendation of life without parole. Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber gave Woods a plea deal option of a 20- to 25-year prison sentence, but Woods rejected it as his attorneys informed him that the state had to prove he pulled the trigger in order to be convicted of capital murder. Unfortunately, The Appeal continues, “Because Woods was not arguing self-defense, Nail refused to allow any evidence of police misconduct into the trial.” At his own trial, Wood’s ex-girlfriend Marquita McClure worked with the prosecutors, telling the jury that Woods had frequently made insidious comments about the cops, leading them to believe he was acting on his false hatred. McClure was actually forced to participate in whatever the prosecutors asked because they told her she’d go to jail for violating her probation. She eventually confessed to lying to the investigators about statements Woods had previously made, saying, “I made that up. I told y’all what you wanted to hear.”
Nate Woods’ appellate attorney was devastatingly incapable, which The Appeal illustrates as “He was appointed an attorney who represented his co-defendant, Spencer, up until the eve of his trial. He continued to represent Woods even though there was a conflict of interest, missed deadlines without telling him, and ‘abandoned’ him, according to the 2017 petition. According to Lloyd, the biggest blow to Woods’s case came when that attorney prematurely raised claims without sufficient evidence to support them, essentially blocking them from being heard in the future.” Woods’ sister Pamela lamented over her brother’s lack of adequate representation because she and their family could not afford the six-figure bill for a private attorney. More witnesses who testified against Nate at his trial have also come forward with sworn affidavits saying they were forced by the prosecution to lie on the stand. The Appeal shares “One woman, who testified during a pretrial hearing that she lied to appease the prosecution, said a police detective threatened to take her child away if she did not help advance the prosecution’s theory that Woods hated the police and planned to shoot them. Another witness said he had been coached by a ‘cold case investigator’ who coerced him into falsely testifying that he did not witness one of the officers pepper spray Woods.”
Today, the United States Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of execution for Woods, but quickly lifted it after declining to review his case. Shortly after, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey rejected Woods’ request for clemency, despite that Kimberly Chisholm Simmons—Chisholm’s sister—contacted Ivey’s office to declare her opposition for the execution. She begged the Governor to save his life, but was told that Ivey was busy and couldn’t talk at the moment. Not long later, Nate Woods was executed.
Nate Woods was an innocent man, who was murdered by the state of Alabama. Of course, I do not believe that anyone should be killed via execution (guilty and innocent are subjective terms, to me), I hope that more people who aren’t invested in the criminal legal system realize how terrifyingly cruel and evil it is to allow states to execute people. No matter what anyone does, it is absolutely abhorrent that anyone is murdered by the government. I am devastated that Nate was taken from the earth so quickly, and right now, I don’t have many words left. May we all lift him up and hope that he’s feeling peace and freedom—I hope he’s running free.