Last week marked the one-year anniversary of Alabama’s execution of Nathaniel Woods, who was convicted as an accomplice in the killing of three Birmingham police officers during an arrest attempt in 2004.
If you’re on Facebook, you may have noticed some posts or shares protesting the execution (I did). One, reposted from March 5, 2020, began by asserting that Woods was “a man who never actually killed anyone.” The poster ending by declaring, with “let me be clear” underscoring, “this was a lynching.”
No, it was justice. The lawful execution was carried out after 14 years of due-process appeals and reviews by superior courts (including the U.S. Supreme Court).
What I didn’t see was the little “Missing Context” pop-up box that Facebook is using these days, which contains the phrase “Independent fact-checkers say this information is missing context and could mislead people” with a “See Why” button to click.
I’ve seen that same box most recently on various posts critical of six Dr. Seuss books being pulled from new publication.
In Orwellian fashion, it appears that some facts are more equal than others, at least to big brother Facebook.
The facts of the Nathaniel Woods case couldn’t be more straightforward, even though death-penalty opponents revile such truths as much as they hate capital punishment itself. That’s why posters like the one I saw decide to simply replace facts with something they like better: pure, propagandized misinformation.
Court convictions are based on law, and Alabama’s complicity statute couldn’t be more explicit regarding capital-murder culpability incurred by accomplice liability for a defendant “who does not personally commit the act of killing which constitutes the murder.”
“A person is legally accountable for the behavior of another constituting a criminal offense if, with the intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense: (1) He procures, induces or causes such other person to commit the offense; or (2) He aids or abets such other person in committing the offense; or (3) Having a legal duty to prevent the commission of the offense, he fails to make an effort he is legally required to make.”
The commentary following the statute leaves no room for doubt about what the law says and means: “Each person who joined [the] unlawful enterprise is responsible for the results whether committed by one or all.”
That’s based on settled law dating back decades, which holds: “when two or more persons enter upon an unlawful enterprise with a common purpose to aid, assist, advise, or encourage each other in whatever may grow out of the enterprise upon which they enter, each is responsible civilly and criminally for everything which may consequently and proximately result from such unlawful purpose, whether specifically contemplated or not, and whether actually perpetrated by all or less than all of the conspirators.”
Put plainly, you don’t have to kill anyone yourself to be guilty as an accomplice to murder.
Statutory simplicity notwithstanding, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals went above and beyond in its painstaking examination and review of Woods’ complicit “aiding and abetting” and “legal duty” of prevention.
The fact that Woods and the actual shooter, Kerry Spencer, operated a lucrative illegal drug business serving 100-plus customers per day in their heavily armed home–which included the assault rifle used in the murders, a weapon specifically designed to kill humans, as gun critics say–is a textbook definition of an unlawful enterprise.
Woods warned officers in the morning that if they came back that afternoon they would get “fed up,” and witnesses recalled him bragging shortly after the shooting that the police had messed with the wrong people, and “we shot their asses.”
The Facebook post about Woods went on to claim twice, with “Let me repeat” emphasis on the second one, that “the testimony of the actual shooter, who said [Woods] had nothing to do with the shooting, was not allowed at trial.”
That’s absolutely false, and yet it didn’t trigger the “False Information” pop-up box Facebook also employs. The court accepted sworn testimony from the actual shooter’s own trial during Wood’s prosecution. What the court did not allow as evidence was Spencer’s claim, as he had written in a public letter and not under oath, that Woods was “100 percent innocent.”
Death and dismantling by liability lawsuit can’t come soon enough for Facebook, which has flaunted its legal protection as a bulletin board forum by being 100 percent guilty of acting as a selective “editor” of content, and doing so in a consistently prejudicial manner.
I searched Facebook posts for the phrase “Breonna Taylor shot while she slept” and scrolled through post after post repeating that false claim–none of which had the “Missing Context” or “False Information” pop-up boxes.
The exhaustive investigation of Taylor’s shooting revealed that she was not in her bed or sleeping when accidentally shot by police, who were returning fire after Taylor’s boyfriend shot at them as they forcibly entered the apartment under a “no-knock” warrant.
There might be a lot of reasons why such blatantly false–and racially inciting–information isn’t flagged on Facebook. But all of them forsake truth.
Sound advice: If you see it on Facebook, doubt it.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
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