After the Execution of Nathan Woods in Alabama, Catholics React

A last-minute appeal to halt the execution was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday night.

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Following a controversial execution in Alabama on Thursday night, Catholics in the state have reiterated their opposition to the death penalty.

Late Thursday evening, the state of Alabama executed 43-year-old Nathan Woods by lethal injection.

Woods, who was black, was convicted in 2005 on four counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder in the shootings of three white police officers in 2004 in Birmingham. 

The three officers had arrived at a house where Woods and his co-defendant Kerry Spencer were believed to stash and sell drugs, and served Woods an arrest warrant for another misdemeanor offense.

As the officers tried to take Woods into custody, three of the officers were shot dead and a fourth survived.

The survivor, Officer Michael Collins, took cover behind the patrol car and testified that he saw Spencer shooting at him from inside the apartment. 

The state conceded that Spencer shot the three officers, but argued that Woods was “an accomplice to the shootings,” according to local news KIRO 7. Woods, according to court records, allegedly threatened the officers if they were to enter the residence. 

His co-defendant Kerry Spencer claimed that Woods was “100% innocent” in the killings of the officers, in a handwritten letter from prison.

Woods was sentenced to death by a jury, although not unanimously—Alabama is the only state where a death sentence does not require a unanimous vote by a jury.

A last-minute appeal to halt the execution was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday night.

Justice Clarence Thomas granted a temporary administrative stay to give the Court more time to fully consider the case. Later on Thursday evening, the application for a halt to the execution was denied by the full Court.

In response to Thursday night’s execution of Woods, the Diocese of Birmingham directed CNA to a joint statement of the bishops of Alabama and Mississippi on capital punishment.

“As Christians, we remember that wrongdoing, no matter how evil, deserves punishment but not vengeance,” the statement reads.

“God can touch and change even the most bitter and hardened heart. Mindful of this, we do not support the execution of criminals. When we execute someone, we take away any opportunity they have to repent and develop a relationship with God in this life,” the bishops stated.

The Archdiocese of Mobile referred to a column written by Archbishop Thomas Rodi in The Catholic Week in August of 2018.

“The death penalty is not a private matter,” the archbishop wrote in the column.

“It is not the grieving loved ones who execute those found guilty, it is not merely the governor who executes, it is not merely the warden of the prison who executes, it is all of us, the citizens of Alabama, since capital punishment is the law that we have enacted and enforce.”

“I remain convinced that we the citizens of Alabama need to end capital punishment in our civil courts,” he wrote. 

The group Catholic Mobilizing Network, which advocates for an end to use of the death penalty, was following Woods’ case and asked supporters for prayers.

“At times like these we may feel at a loss of what to do in the face of such egregious acts of violence. These are the moments when we pray for God's guidance and Grace. Please pray, on behalf of Nathaniel Woods that he may come to know God's peace and ever-present mercy,” the group stated on its website.

Pope Francis in 2018 approved new language for the Catechism on the death penalty, calling it “inadmissible.”

The new language states that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”