The following is a first-hand account from News 5’s Katarina Luketich who witnessed Thursday’s execution in Alabama:
I was one of five members of the media selected to witness the execution of Nathaniel Woods at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore on March 5. Woods was set for execution by lethal injection at 6 p.m.
I arrived in Atmore at 3 p.m. Myself and other reporters waited in a building that is not on the prison’s campus.
A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Corrections listed the activities Nathaniel Woods participated in on the day leading up to the execution. Woods requested sweet potatoes, spinach, chicken patty, chicken leg, cooked apples, fries, two oranges, and an orange-flavored drink for his last meal. He ate just one bite of the chicken leg.
At 5 p.m. I met with members of Woods’ family outside of the Holman gates. They made one final plea to Governor Kay Ivey to commute his sentence.
I was set to load into a van with the other selected witnesses to be brought to the execution chamber when we got a notification at 5:38 p.m. from the U.S. Supreme Court that a temporary stay was issued. The death warrant for Woods expired at midnight, meaning Justices had six hours to decide if the stay should be extended or if Woods’ execution could proceed. At that point there was nothing to do but wait.
At 7:35 p.m. we received an email from Woods’ attorney with a letter from Governor Ivey attached. The letter said Ivey would not be commuting Woods’ sentence. We were still waiting to hear from the Supreme Court.
At 7:48 p.m. the Supreme Court lifted the stay of execution. Twenty minutes later was when myself and four other journalists were loaded onto a van and escorted to death row. When we arrived, corrections officers escorted us to a witness room that looks into the execution chamber. There are three witness rooms. Media was in one room, and the victims’ families were in the others. Woods’ family chose not to watch the execution.
The witness room is a small room with several chairs facing the window. There was a curtain inside the chamber that covered the glass to the witness room. After several minutes, a corrections officer pulled back the curtain to reveal Woods who was strapped on a gurney. He already had a needle in his arm, connected to IVs that fed into a room I couldn’t see.
The warden came out and read the death warrant, which we could hear through a speaker in the witness room. Woods was given the opportunity to make any final remarks. He declined.
At 8:38 p.m. the lethal drug began flowing. I could not see who was administering it. Woods kept his head lifted, staring straight into one of the witness rooms until he could no longer keep it lifted. Shortly before 9 p.m. we were escorted out of the witness room and were loaded back into the van to be taken back off the prison’s campus.
Woods was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m. by a doctor.
Witnessing someone die is not something that falls on me lightly. It is a heavy assignment and one that will stay with me. I write this story in hopes of shedding some light into what happens on death row during executions.