With pop stars bringing the series to prominence, it’s easy to forget that The New York Times Presents started as a deep dive into more serious matters. With the ninth episode that premieres on December 3rd on FX and Hulu, the show returns to its original format with “To Live and Die in Alabama,” chronicling the conviction and death sentence of Nathanial Woods.

(FX)

(FX)

The documentary is bookended by Lauren Faraino, a pro bono attorney who fought to save Nathanial Woods’ life. Woods was accused of luring four police officers into a deadly trap without any evidence and sentenced to the death penalty. After 14 years in prison, his execution was scheduled for March 5th, 2020 and between audio from Lauren’s frantic calls to try and reverse the decision and the final outcome, we learn more about Nathanial Woods as a person and what happened on June 17th, 2004, a day that would change his life forever.

From immediate family members and friends of Nathaniel Woods, the documentary paints a picture of a young Black man who used drug dealing as an opportunity to get out of a bad situation, but was on a corrective path when he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Viewers are presented with a lot of information and ultimately asked to make up their own minds about what the end result should have been.

The epilogue states that “Alabama remains the only state that permits a judge to impose the death penalty even if the jury’s recommendation of death is not unanimous.” That’s an important point because one thing this documentary makes clear is that the jury was not unanimous on the verdict. Through the special, we hear from several members of the jury as they recall the trial and outcome.

The events of To Live and Die in Alabama were overshadowed by other social injustices of 2020, but the themes of Matt Kay’s film all align. Racial profiling, the responsibility of a police officer, and how jurors are picked all come into play in this case. It’s a sad story, but excellent journalism nonetheless.

The New York Times Presents: To Live and Die in Alabama premieres Friday, December 3rd on FX and Hulu at 10:00 pm ET.

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