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Man set to be executed Thursday for murders he did not commit

Jessa Reid Bolling

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An Alabama man convicted in the 2004 shooting deaths of three police officers he did not kill is set to be executed this afternoon. 

Nathaniel Woods, 44, was convicted in 2005 of capital murder in the shooting deaths of three Birmingham police officers Carlos Owen, Harley A. Chisholm III and Charles R. Bennett. Woods was also convicted of attempted murder in the shooting of officer Michael Collins. 

Woods is set to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. today at Holman Correctional Facility. 

While Woods was not the one who shot the officers, prosecutors claimed that Woods lured police to an ambush at the apartment in Ensley where the shooting took place. The officers were attempting to serve a misdemeanor warrant on Woods when another man inside the apartment, Kerry Spencer, opened fire.

Spencer was also convicted in the case and is currently on death row. 

Yesterday, Spencer spoke via phone with CNN correspondent Martin Savage, saying he takes full responsibility for shooting the officers and that the shooting was a spur of the moment decision and there was no premeditated plan between him and Woods to kill anyone.  

“I’m the only one who shot anybody that day,” Spencer said. “He (Woods) didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody… I didn’t know I was going to do this s***, so how would Nate know?”

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Woods’ attorneys released a handwritten letter from Spencer, in which he wrote Woods doesn’t deserve to be incarcerated, let alone executed. 

“Nathaniel Woods is 100 percent innocent,” Spencer wrote. “I know this to be a fact because I’m the person that shot and killed all three of the officers.”

On the steps of the state Capitol, his family proclaimed his innocence in a plea to Governor Kay Ivey to grant him clemency to prevent his execution from being carried out. 

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Nathaniel’s sister Pamela Woods, accompanied by their father Nathaniel Woods Sr., spoke to reporters outside the Capitol building, proclaiming her brother’s innocence and calling on Ivey to stop the execution.

“We really just want people to see that he really is innocent, that he didn’t have anything to do with the murders of those officers,” Pamela Woods said. “We do feel really bad for what happened that day. We don’t wish that on anyone, for their family to have to deal with that. It was very unfortunate that the shooter did what he did. But the main point is that Nathaniel had no parts in those actions of another man, Kerry Spencer.”

Yesterday afternoon, Molly Cole, an advocate for the Woods family, delivered letters to Ivey’s office asking the governor to stop his execution.

Cole was accompanied by two men who were freed from death row after their convictions were overturned, Garry Drinkard and Randal Padgett.

“I’m not here so much to get into Mr. Woods’ case, but I’m here to protest the state-sanctioned killing of human life,” Padgett said. “And I would like to quote Gov. Ivey’s own words back when she signed the abortion ban last year – the human life protection act. As she was signing it, she said ‘Alabamians have a deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.’ Well, I’m here to say that Mr. Woods’ life is precious. And I want her to stand up to her words and protect that life.”

“With the trial messed up the way it was, with the ineffective assistance of counsel, he should get some type of hearing, he should get a commutation at the least, in my opinion,” Drinkard said.

According to a website dedicated to Woods’ case called SaveNate.com, over 31,000 letters have been sent to Ivey’s office calling for her to grant a reprieve for Woods.

Advocates for Woods claim there is no evidence that there was any plan or scheme to kill the police officers and that inadequate legal representation during the trial led him to be wrongfully convicted.

Martin Luther King, III, son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., sent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey a letter on Tuesday pleading for her to stop Woods’ execution.

“55 years ago, my father, Martin Luther King, Jr., lead a march from Selma, Alabama, where he and fellow civil rights activists were killed and beaten. Under your watch, Alabama is about to produce yet another tragic injustice,” King wrote. “It is about time we learn from our past, and be on the right side of history. 

“Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice.

“Are you willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?”

Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a statement yesterday on the Woods’ case, calling efforts to stop the execution “a last-minute movement” to save a “cop-killer” from his “just punishment.”

“The message of that movement is encapsulated by the headline of a press release sent out today, which declared: ‘Surrendered and Innocent Man Set to Die,’” Marshall said in the statement. “That headline contains 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. 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 tomorrow; that is, justice is set to be carried out tomorrow. The only injustice in the case of Nathaniel Woods is that which was inflicted on those four policemen that terrible day in 2004.”  

Ivey’s office told CNN yesterday that she will have no comment until a decision is made.

 

Jessa Reid Bolling is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter and graduate of The University of Alabama with a B.A. in journalism and political science.

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Judge dismisses former Drummond exec’s lawsuit against Balch and Bingham

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Balch & Bingham law firm filed by a former coal executive who claimed the law firm’s poor legal advice resulted in his conviction on federal bribery charges. 

Judge Tamara Harris Johnson ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on former Drummond Coal vice president David Roberson’s $50 million lawsuit against Balch and his former employer, Drummond.

The suit claimed that Balch attorneys, primarily Joel Gilbert, who was also convicted of federal bribery charges, assured Roberson that a plan to recruit then-State Rep. Oliver Robinson to use his office to thwart efforts by the EPA to clean up toxic soil in the 35th Avenue Superfund site in North Birmingham was legal.

Johnson’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit against Balch didn’t dispute Roberson’s claims but said that under the Alabama Legal Service Liability Action statute, Roberson should have filed his claim no later than November 2018. He filed it in March 2019. 

“All claims against defendant Balch & Bingham are barred by the statute of limitations,” Johnson wrote. 

Johnson said a motion to dismiss filed by Drummond will be addressed separately at a later date. 

Roberson and Gilbert were the only two executives found guilty by a jury in October 2018 in the well-publicized federal case that saw Robinson plead guilty and go to prison for accepting bribes. 

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Roberson maintained his innocence throughout, saying he relied on the advice and counsel of Gilbert and others at Balch. During the sentencing phase, U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon said he was moved by Roberson’s history and the character witnesses who testified on his behalf, and the judge said he found Roberson to be less culpable than Gilbert because he relied on Gilbert’s legal advice. 

Gilbert was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Robinson was sentenced to two and a half years.

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Trial begins in lawsuit challenging state’s COVID-19 election rules

Micah Danney

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(ALABAMAVOTES.GOV/APR GRAPHIC)

A virtual trial opened on Tuesday in a lawsuit charging that Alabama’s requirements of witnesses and photo ID for absentee ballots and a “de facto ban” on curbside voting are unconstitutional.

The suit, People First v. Merrill, was filed on May 1 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and the American Civil Liberties Union against Secretary of State John Merrill.

Merrill has touted the rules for the election in November as guaranteeing “a higher degree of credibility than ever before in the history of the state.”

The SPLC said that while Merrill did permit any eligible voter to apply for an absentee ballot by claiming “physical illness or infirmity,” the witness and ID absentee requirements should be waived and the curbside voting ban lifted because they present unfair obstacles to plaintiffs’ ability to vote.

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Federal court orders outside monitoring of Alabama prisons’ mental health care

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A federal judge has ordered external monitoring of mental health care in Alabama’s prisons, noting a long and disturbing history of inadequate care and refusal by the state to willingly improve conditions.

In his 124-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson noted decades of insufficient care and lawsuits and established a hybrid monitoring plan that will see an external monitoring team train Alabama Department of Corrections’ staff.

“ADOC’s long history of repeated litigation regarding the inadequacy of its mental-health care is independent evidence of its inability to sustain improvements without the type of oversight ordered today,” Thompson wrote in the order. “This history serves as evidence of why court monitoring is necessary.”

The order is part of the long-running Braggs v. Dunn litigation, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, Baker Donelson and the Dagney Johnson Law Group, that has resulted in numerous changes and harsh rebukes from Thompson over ADOC’s consistently poor mental health care of prisoners. At one point, Thompson labeled ADOC’s mental health care as “horrendously inadequate.”

That inadequate care has resulted in Alabama having one of the highest rates of inmate suicides in the nation.

“People in Alabama prisons have been languishing for far too long at the hands of state officials,” said Ebony Howard, senior supervising attorney for Criminal Justice Reform at the SPLC. “Despite historical intervention and court monitoring, ADOC has failed to permanently uphold its obligation to protect the people incarcerated in Alabama prisons. The court’s order requiring long-term external and internal compliance monitoring will hopefully ensure that people with mental health needs will finally receive the humane and just treatment they deserve.”

The parties will be back in court on Sept. 14 in a hearing to determine if Thompson’s order falls within the guidelines of the new Prison Litigation Reform Act, which limits the amount of change that can be imposed on a prison system by the courts.

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Rep. Mo Brooks deposed in Census lawsuit

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mo Brooks

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, was deposed Thursday in a federal lawsuit over the Census. The deposition in the suit — State of Alabama & Mo Brooks v. U.S. Census Bureau & U.S. Department of Commerce — was taken virtually in Brooks’s district office.

“I was deposed yesterday in my ongoing legal battle against illegal alien counts determining how many Congressmen and presidential electoral college votes each state has,” Brooks said. “The attorneys who deposed me represented various illegal alien sanctuary parts of the country that hope to gain political power at the expense of Alabama and other law-abiding states. I steadfastly defended the Constitutional rights of Alabamians in the face of those who seek to undermine the rights of American citizens in favor of illegal aliens. The conclusion of this deposition makes us one step closer to a final judgement in this important case.”

In May 2018, Brooks and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, on the state of Alabama’s behalf, sued in an attempt to force the U.S. Census Bureau and federal government to not include illegal immigrants in the apportionment of Congressional seats and Electoral College votes.

Brooks and Marshall contend that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and the “one man-one vote” principle are being violated when non-citizens are used to determine apportionment and representation in the Congress.

President Donald Trump has publicly agreed with Marshall and Brooks. In July, he highlighted the importance of the case when he signed an executive order that excludes illegal immigrants from the part of the 2020 Census count that determines America’s representation in Congress.

The president’s executive order states: “The Constitution does not specifically define which persons must be included in the apportionment base. Although the Constitution requires the ‘persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed,’ to be enumerated in the census, that requirement has never been understood to include in the apportionment base every individual physically present within a State’s boundaries at the time of the census. Instead, the term ‘persons in each State’ has been interpreted to mean that only the ‘inhabitants’ of each State should be included.”

“Determining which persons should be considered ‘inhabitants’ for the purpose of apportionment requires the exercise of judgment,” the order continues. “For example, aliens who are only temporarily in the United States, such as for business or tourism, and certain foreign diplomatic personnel are ‘persons’ who have been excluded from the apportionment base in past censuses. Conversely, the Constitution also has never been understood to exclude every person who is not physically ‘in’ a State at the time of the census. For example, overseas Federal personnel have, at various times, been included in and excluded from the populations of the States in which they maintained their homes of record. The discretion delegated to the executive branch to determine who qualifies as an ‘inhabitant’ includes authority to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.”

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“For the purpose of the reapportionment of Representatives following the 2020 census, it is the policy of the United States to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.), to the maximum extent feasible and consistent with the discretion delegated to the executive branch,” Trump’s executive order continued. “Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of Government.”

While Alabama has experienced some population growth in the last decade, it has not attracted nearly as many immigrants, both documented and undocumented, as states like Florida, California and Texas, thus not the same rate of population growth.

If the estimated 20 million people living in the U.S. illegally are counted in apportionment just like American citizens, Alabama is likely to lose representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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It’s also likely that Alabama could lose a seat regardless. Alabamians have done a lackluster job of filling out the 2020 census. As a result, it now appears highly likely, particularly if Brooks and the state of Alabama lose this lawsuit, that Alabama will lose one, and possibly two, of its seven Congressional seats beginning in the 2022 election.

Brooks represents the 5th Congressional District.

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