“Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
The curtains to the viewing room opened at 8:37 p.m. Woods didn’t have any last words, and no one from his family or friends were present to witness his execution. The “death warrant” was read and Woods sat up on the gurney and stared straight ahead into one of the viewing rooms. At 8:40 p.m., Woods sat up and began mouthing words. His fists were clenched, while his right hand index finger was out in an apparent sign of his Islamic faith. At 8:43 p.m. Woods laid his head back down on the gurney and stared to his right. He lifted his head and laid down once more, minutes later he was dead. So reported CNN.
A TALE OF AT LEAST TWO STORIES: WHAT ALLEGEDLY HAPPENED
The opening narrative comes from Alabama’s recent execution of Nathaniel Woods for the role he allegedly played in what has come to be known as the “Deadliest Day” in the history of the Birmingham Police Department. On that day, June 17, 2004, three Birmingham Police Officers, were shot and killed trying to serve a domestic violence warrant for Woods. But another man, Kerry Spencer, who is still on Alabama’s death row awaiting execution, has admitted that he shot the officers, that Woods knew nothing about what happened, didn’t have a gun that day and actually began to run away once the shooting began. Of course, there’s at least two sides to every story and in this case, there’s actually more than two. But for the sake of this article, at least one other side of the story is that although Woods didn’t shoot the officers, the officers were there for him, he was at the house either to buy or deal drugs and that he lured the officers in the house by saying that he was surrendering. Put differently, that Woods set the officers up by leading them to barrel of Spencer’s rifle. The truth is that we’ll probably never know exactly what happened that day and truth be told, this article is not about what happened that day, and it isn’t about the death penalty either. Instead, my question and really the lesson to be taught here is that the company you keep can convict you of a crime whether you ACTUALLY DID THE CRIME OR NOT. And as a criminal defense attorney, when I read stories like this the question that comes to mind is, “I wonder what would’ve happened if this had happened in Indiana? In this context, if you moved Nathaniel Woods’ case from Alabama and sat it smack dab in the middle of Indiana, in my opinion you’d get the same result. Namely, that Woods COULD BE found guilty despite the fact that he didn’t have a gun, never shot the officers and may have run away from the scene once the shooting began. I’ll explain.
It’s probably safe to say that we’re all familiar with the idea that sometimes people are simply guilty of “being at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Add being with the wrong person(s) doing the wrong things (think criminal behavior) to the mix and BOOM just like that you have the legal concept of accomplice liability. So being at the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong people engaged in criminal behavior equals accomplice liability. But what the H-E DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS does accomplice liability mean. The simplest way to explain it is that if you’re at the scene of a crime, with other people that commit a crime, you COULD BE found guilty of the crime EVEN THOUGH you didn’t actually commit the crime. I know it might sound crazy but stay with me. So an accomplice is someone who somehow aids, induces, or causes another person to commit a crime. Maybe a few examples would be helpful. Some examples that you may be familiar with are: the lookout person, who doesn’t actually deal drugs directly to people but aids the drug dealer by looking out for the police. Or the getaway driver, who doesn’t actually go into the bank and rob the bank but is at the ready to help the bank robbers get away from the scene as soon as they come out. In these examples, the lookout person and the getaway driver could be found guilty because they helped in the commission of crimes. These are just a few straightforward examples but trust and believe that the prisons are full of people who were found guilty, in part because of the company they kept and it’s worth noting that sometimes they didn’t even know that their company planned to commit a crime.
The moral of the story is that the company you keep matters. “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Corey L. Scott, Law Office of Corey L. Scott, 1099 N. Meridian Street, Suite 150, Indianapolis, IN 46204; [email protected]; @coreyscottlaw (Twitter; Instagram; Facebook)