Today’s guest columnist is Bart Starr, Jr.
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(Editor’s note: Nate Woods was executed March 5, 2020. This piece was published February 25.)
In 1998 our family had the honor of meeting a wonderful couple who had endured an unspeakable tragedy.
Their daughter had been murdered, an event no family should ever have to endure. Given the evidence was airtight, we can all support serious consequences for the killer. Alabama stands for justice in such cases.
Justice must, however, encompass more than simply delivering harsh sentences. It also commands that we never administer the most severe punishment in cases that do not rise to the level of capital murder. It demands, in the words of Anthony Ray Hinton, that good people take a stand against injustice. When an individual such as Mr. Hinton, who for decades was on Alabama’s death row for crimes he did not commit, speaks, we have a duty to treat his words with reverence.
Today the state of Alabama stands ready to execute a man whose crime falls miles short of what warrants the loss of life. Unless we citizens of this great state rise up and issue a call for righteousness, we will allow the gravest injustice to occur.
Nate Woods is set to be executed on March 5th, yet he shot no one, plotted nothing. He refused to come outside when officers came to arrest him because of doubts about the validity of the misdemeanor warrant.
When Nate defied the officers and walked away from them, a different man – Kerry Spencer – woke up and killed three police officers.
Prosecutors recognized this difference in culpability and, before his trial, offered Nate 20- to 25- years in prison. Nate’s decision to turn down the State’s offer was based on a deep seated certainty that he was not responsible. What he counted on were competent attorneys to make his case. Instead, his court-appointed lawyers were so inadequate that he is now at risk of paying the ultimate price for a crime he did not commit.
When a police officer loses his life, the entire community suffers. My parents instilled in me gratitude for those who protect us, demanding that we always look upon our officers with the highest respect. I do the same with my grandchildren. Yet we must not limit our love and concern to those in uniform.
Respect for our legal system directly flows from our trust that every citizen will be afforded the sort of representation that allows for truth to be revealed. This is especially true in cases where the defendant believes he has been wrongfully charged. Mistakes made by inexperienced counsel must never be a reason for a death sentence, for it means procedural technicalities carry more weight than substance.
If we as a community knew with certainty that a natural disaster was going to strike – or had already caused devastation – we would swing into action to protect and help total strangers.
God would expect no less. Why, then, do we fail to lift a finger when it comes to helping one individual in dire straits? Is his life less meaningful because his background is not similar to ours? Does his heartbreaking childhood and checkered past mean we should turn the other way? It must not.
It cannot if we are going to look ourselves in the mirror and say we believe Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.”
Governor Ivey can singlehandedly fix this great injustice that has been ignored for far too long. But she will only do so with the support of the people and the State Legislature.
Take a minute to save a life
It will take each and every voice to save Nate from execution. Call your state representatives & Governor Ivey’s office at 334-242-7100 (or message her here).
To read the full report on Nate’s case, visit SaveNate.com.
Bart Starr, Jr. grew up in Green Bay, WI, and has lived in the Birmingham area for decades. He is a small business owner who supports a boys ranch founded by his parents, as well as other charities. He and his wife Elaena cherish the values and unselfishness that make Alabama such a wonderful place to live.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. email@example.com.