‘To Live and Die in Alabama’ Re-examines the Controversial Execution of Nathaniel Woods

Nathaniel Woods is the subject of The New York Times documentary "To Live and Die In Alabama" on FX/Hulu. Image: screenshot from "To Live and Die in Alabama."

In March of 2020, after 15 years of being on death row, Nathaniel Woods was executed for the killing of three Birmingham police officers although he never fired the murder weapon.

The controversial execution of Woods is the subject of a new FX/Hulu documentary To Live and Die In Alabama, the New York Times reported.

Directed and produced by Matt Kay, the documentary explores the killings of Officers Carlos Owen, Harley A. Chisholm III, and Charles R. Bennett on what became known as” the deadliest day in the history of Alabama’s largest police department.”

According to reports, Woods was unarmed when the officers were killed down while attempting to execute a warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanor.

Woods was charged with capital murder and accused of being an accomplice to Kerry Spencer, who was convicted of the shooting. Both were convicted of capital murder and of attempted murder in the wounding of Collins.

Alabama, along with 26 other states have laws on the books where an accomplice can be sentenced to death, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The prosecution team argued that Mr. Woods had intentionally lured the officers to their deaths. Because of that legal precedent, the state did not have to prove that he actually killed anyone in seeking his conviction for capital murder

The Death Penalty Information Center states that of the country’s 1,458 executions that took place between 1985 and 2018, 11 involved cases in which the defendant neither arranged nor committed murder.

Although Woods did not fire the deadly shots, the prosecutors argued during the 2005 trial that he helped set up the ambush for Spencer, who did kill the officers.

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

Even though Kim Kardashian lobbied on Woods’ behalf to convince the courts to overturn his conviction, he was executed by lethal injection on March 5, 2020.

Spencer is currently awaiting an execution date and opted into the state’s newly approved method of execution by nitrogen hypoxia in 2018.

Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in Alabama, said that in cases like Woods, the innocent are often the ones on trial.

“The tragedy is that people like Nathaniel Woods become victims of our indifference to injustice,” Stevenson said. “Being in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t make you someone who is evil.”

To Live and Die In Alabama is currently streaming on FX and Hulu.

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