Alabama Executes Man Convicted Of Crime Another Man Confessed To
There are lots of arguments against capital punishment. Many of us, surely, could go on all day with them. I certainly could. But the most compelling of all is the fact that sometimes we get it wrong. Our justice system is far from perfect, and we have certainly convicted many people of crimes they did not commit, we have sentenced people to death who were later proven innocent, and we have, indeed, executed people who later turned out to be innocent.
And we may have done it again. In fact, we probably did.
Nathaniel Woods, 43, was executed in Alabama last night for his role in the 2004 shootings of three Birmingham police officers. But according to his co-defendant, Kerry Spencer, Woods was not involved. Spencer says he knows this because he was the one responsible.
Via NBC News:
"Nathaniel Woods is 100% innocent," Spencer, who remains on death row, wrote in an open letter. "I know that to be a fact because I'm the person that shot and killed all three of the officers that Nathaniel was subsequently charged and convicted of murdering. Nathaniel Woods doesn't even deserve to be incarcerated, much less executed."
Back in 2004, Woods and Spencer were involved in selling crack cocaine out of their Birmingham, Alabama, apartment. Four officers showed up to that apartment to serve the men with a warrant for said crack cocaine, and were shot. Three died, one survived. During the trial, prosecutors claimed that Woods hated cops and thus purposely set up an "ambush," luring the officers to the apartment, which then allowed Spencer to shoot them. According to Woods's supporters, there was no actual evidence for this theory.
According to Spencer, the officers came of their own accord and he shot them because they were assaulting Woods — information that was not allowed at trial. Also not allowed at the trial was an accusation by another Birmingham drug dealer that two of the officers were involved in a protection racket — accepting money from local drug dealers in exchange for not arresting them.
Woods's execution was delayed three hours as the Supreme Court reviewed his case. Ultimately, they decided to let it go on as scheduled. Republican Governor Kay Ivey — who by the way calls herself "pro-life" — would not be moved either, saying "This is not a decision that I take lightly, but I firmly believe in the rule of law and that justice must be served."
Except "it doesn't matter if this guy actually committed the crime, or not, we just want to see someone pay" is not justice. It is the opposite of that. Sure! There are people out there who don't really care who pays for things that hurt them, as long as someone does, but that's not justice, it's insanity. Maybe it makes them feel good, but that's not what the justice system is supposed to be about.
Democratic Senator Doug Jones released a statement condemning the killing of Woods.
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 the 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.
You would think, but apparently they were just in a big rush!
Many prominent activists — including Martin Luther King III and Kim Kardashian (good on her!) — spent the weeks leading up to Woods's execution pleading with Ivey. It did not work.
"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," King, the son of Martin Luther King Jr., said in a statement after the execution. "It makes a mockery of justice and constitutional guarantees to a fair trial."
And that's the thing with the death penalty. You can't undo it. You put someone in prison, and it turns out they're innocent — it may not give them the time they lost back, but at least it's not permanent. It's not forever.
The fact that people are still executed is, itself, proof that it doesn't work as a deterrent. If deterrents worked in general, we probably wouldn't have the world's largest prison either. Its primary purpose instead seems to be that it makes people feel good, people who have a thirst for vengeance. But that doesn't seem like an instinct we ought to be cultivating.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse