UPDATED: Shortly before 9 p.m. EST, the Supreme Court cleared the way for Woods’ execution. In a brief order, the full court denied Woods’ petition for review and his request to put his execution on hold. The justices vacated the earlier order, entered by Justice Clarence Thomas, that temporarily blocked Woods’ execution. The justices also denied a separate stay request, filed tonight, that argued that Woods’ execution should be put on hold to give him time to file a petition alleging that his appointed lawyers had been constitutionally inadequate. There were no recorded dissents from either order.
Tonight the Supreme Court blocked the execution of Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. CST. However, it is not clear how long Woods’ victory will last: The order putting his execution on hold may only be a temporary one, known as an “administrative stay,” designed to give the full court more time to consider the case.
Woods was convicted for his role in the 2004 shooting deaths of three Birmingham police officers. The state concedes that Woods was not the “triggerman,” but it emphasizes that he “was a willing participant in the slayings.” Woods came to the Supreme Court this morning, asking the justices to block his execution and to weigh in on issues related to the constitutionality of the process by which Alabama scheduled Woods for execution.
Woods’ stay request went to Justice Clarence Thomas, who handles emergency requests from the geographic region that includes Alabama. This evening, shortly before 7 p.m. EST, Thomas issued a brief order staying Woods’ execution “pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.” Although Thomas has the authority to act on Woods’ request alone, the justices normally refer substantive requests to the full court. The fact that Thomas – who is rarely sympathetic to death-row inmates – did not do so, but instead went ahead and granted the request to stay the execution, strongly suggests that tonight’s order is only a temporary one, intended to allow the justices enough time to adequately consider Woods’ request. Last year, in another capital case from Alabama, Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from an order that cleared the way for the state to go ahead with the execution. Among other things, Breyer criticized his colleagues for rejecting his request to wait to act until the justices met for their private conference the following day. The justices have another private conference scheduled for tomorrow, March 6.