Subject of Famous Supreme Court Decision Has Made a New Life

James Tyrone Woodson’s death sentence was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 because the jury had not been allowed to consider any mitigating factors in his life or about his peripheral role in the crime. The Court not only rejected Woodson’s death sentence, but held that a mandatory death penalty system was unconstitutional. Woodson had been convicted in 1974 of first-degree murder, which was automatically punishable by the death penalty under North Carolina law. Woodson had been in a car during the robbery and murder, and he maintained that he was threatened to assist with the robbery. Woodson and 120 other death row inmates’ lives were spared because of the Supreme Court ruling. He eventually became eligible for parole and was released in 1993. Since his release, Woodson has led a crime-free life. He used to be the kitchen manager at the Raleigh Rescue Mission. He now has a job in Raleigh and preaches at Wake Correctional Center. “You have to want to change. Nobody can make you change,” he said recently about his work helping others. He continued, “There’s a choice in the matter in life itself. Do you want to live? Do you want to be helpful to another individual because you’ve been helped?”

(K. Carlson, “Former prisoner’s case changed N.C.’s death penalty law, ” WRAL News, November 17, 2009; photo by WRAL News). Juries in North Carolina now choose between a sentence of life without parole or the death penalty; and any mitigating evidence can be presented on the defendant’s behalf. The case was Woodson v. North Carolina. See Supreme Court and Arbitrariness.