This is an opinion piece.
A “cop-killer” was executed this week by the State of Alabama and by each and every one of us.
Alabama death row inmate Nathaniel Woods, 43, was executed Thursday night by lethal injection at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. Without giving a final statement, Woods was executed at 8:38 p.m. and pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. In less than 30 minutes, we all were part of ending a human life.
Woods was executed for the 2004 capital murder of three Birmingham police officers: Harley A. Chisholm III, Carlos “Curly” Owen and Charles R. Bennett. After being notified that Woods’ sentence had been carried out, Gov. Kay Ivey released a statement explaining the circumstances of the case. The day that changed the lives of the officers’ families forever was June 17, 2004, and she said on that day, four Birmingham police officers went to issue a warrant of arrest for Woods, “a known drug dealer.” Unfortunately, she said only one of those officers lived to recount the “horrendous assault” that happened to them.
According to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the evidence showed that Woods was an “integral participant” in the intentional murder of the three officers. According to Ivey, the day the officers were killed, Woods talked to others about killing police officers; he taunted the officers and lured them into his apartment, where he knew they would be met by gunfire; he pointed the gunman to the third police officer; and he escaped with the gunman. She said each officer died of multiple gunshot wounds, two officers were shot in the back, one in the head and none of the officers had an opportunity to return fire. To add insult to injury, one officer’s weapon was still holstered.
After reading this account of what happened to the officers, I feel it’s only natural to feel terror, anger and a need for retribution. But as a Christian, it’s also only natural to feel guilty for being a party to taking the life of another human being. Even though Woods seemed to be an evil man, is it right to end his life? That’s something each of us must decide for ourselves.
Ivey said the state offered testimony of 39 witnesses at Woods’ capital murder trial, including Officer Michael Collins, 25 other law enforcement officers and forensic experts. She said there was no evidence, and no argument had been made that Woods tried to stop the gunman from committing the “heinous” crimes. In fact, she said he later bragged about his participation in the “horrific” murders. And since the jury did not view Woods’ acts as those of an innocent bystander, she said they believed that he was a “fully engaged participant.” That’s why she said a jury of Woods’ peers convicted him of four-counts of capital murder. In the past 15 years, she said his conviction was reviewed “at least nine times,” and no court found any reason to overturn the jury’s decision.
Under Alabama law, Ivey said someone who helps kill a police officer is “just as guilty as the person who directly commits the crime.” Since 1983, she said Alabama has executed two individuals for being an accomplice to capital murder.
“After thorough and careful consideration of the facts surrounding the case, the initial jury’s decision, the many legal challenges and reviews, I concluded that the state of Alabama should carry out Mr. Woods’ lawfully imposed sentence this evening,” she said, in a statement Thursday night. “This is not a decision that I take lightly, but I firmly believe in the rule of law and that justice must be served. My thoughts and most sincere prayers are for the families of Officers Chisholm, Owen and Bennett. May the God of all comfort be with these families as they continue to find peace and heal from this terrible crime.”
Attorney General Steve Marshall also issued a statement regarding Woods’ execution. He said there was a “last-minute movement afoot to ‘save’ Woods from his just punishment.” He said the message of that movement is “encapsulated by the headline of a press release sent out [Wednesday], which declared: ‘Surrendered and Innocent Man Set to Die.’” He said the headline contained “two falsehoods and one truth.”
“The falsehoods are the descriptors ‘surrendered’ and ‘innocent’: neither apply whatsoever to Nathaniel Woods, whose actions directly caused the deaths of three policemen and injury to another,” Marshall said in his statement prior to the execution. “The truth is ‘set to die’: Nathaniel Woods was correctly found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury of his peers, and that sentence is set to be carried out [Thursday].” The only injustice in the case of Nathaniel Woods is that which was inflicted on those four policemen that terrible day in 2004.”
Since Woods assisted in three deaths and the devastation of the officers’ families, I can see how and why Ivey and Marshall can stand by the choice to end his life. But I have to admit, it would’ve been difficult if I was the one to “flip the switch” to administer the lethal injection.
Whether right or wrong, the death penalty is something that we as a society allow to continue. Since we allow it, we must too own the act of it. We must remember that we’re responsible for Woods’ death just as much as the governor and the state.
I’ll be praying for God to forgive us for taking a life. Also, I’ll be praying for the officers’ families and for Woods’ family.
Nickie Simpson is a staff writer for The Reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.