A Birmingham man convicted of being an accomplice in the murders of three Birmingham police officers was executed Thursday evening.
Nathaniel Woods, 43, was executed after appeals and national media attention failed to deter Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to intervene. Woods was convicted of being an accomplice in the murders, despite the shooter’s statements that Woods was not responsible for the deaths and that there was no plan to kill them.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay in the hours before Woods was set to be executed at 6 p.m. Thursday, but Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas just before 8 p.m. lifted the stay. Woods was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m.
“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,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement after the execution.
A jury in 2005 convicted Woods of being an accomplice to the deaths of the three Birmingham police officers – Charles Bennett, Carlos Owen and Harley Chisholm III – but the man who shot them and wounded another, Kerry Spencer, admitted to the crimes and is also serving on Holman’s death row.
On the day the officers entered the Ensley apartment shared by Woods and Spencer, Woods surrendered and had no weapon, but the commotion startled Spencer awake in another room, and he came out firing his semi-automatic rifle, according to court records.
During Spencer’s trial, he testified that those officers had harassed them over two visits earlier that day and that when they arrived for the third time he was asleep in a bedroom. Spencer testified that he shot the officers as a “knee-jerk reaction” when he saw one officer with his gun unholstered inside the apartment and that Woods was innocent in the deaths.
In the days before his execution, prominent people began urging Gov. Ivey to intervene, and national media outlets covered the case.
Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights leader, wrote to Ivey asking her to stop Woods’s execution. Kim Karshadian West and O.J. Simpson both tweeted support for Woods and asked for intervention in his execution.
U.S. Senator Doug Jones on Thursday also expressed concern over the pending execution.
“Given the questions and mitigating issues involved in this 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,” Jones said in a statement.
Kimberly Chisholm Simmons, the sister of officer Harley Chisholm, killed by Spencer, in a statement before Woods’s death, asked Ivey to reconsider her decision not to intervene.
“I do not think that Nathaniel is guilty of murder. I urge Governor Ivey to reconsider her decision not to intervene. There is no harm in allowing more time for the courts to investigate. I want the new evidence to be brought forward and evaluated by new attorneys,” Simmons wrote.
“Please do not move forward with the hasty decision to execute Nathaniel. My conscience will not let me live with this if he dies. I beg you to have mercy on him,” Simmons wrote.
Judge dismisses former Drummond exec’s lawsuit against Balch and Bingham
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.
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.
Trial begins in lawsuit challenging state’s COVID-19 election rules
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.
Federal court orders outside monitoring of Alabama prisons’ mental health care
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.
Rep. Mo Brooks deposed in Census lawsuit
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.”
“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.
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.