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July 22, 2022

Victim's family opposing death sentence as Alabama prepares for execution next week

I have long hoped (but have never been confident) that the application of the death penalty can bring some measure of catharsis and closure to family members and other victims of a murder.  For example, as recently mentioned in this post, it seems many victims of the Parkland school shooter are quite eager to see the capital sentencing process move forward.  But, as this local article from Alabama reveals, in some cases the death penalty advances against the wishes of a murder victim’s family.  Here are the details:

Toni and Terryln Hall were just three and six years old when their mother, Faith Hall, was shot to death by Joe Nathan James, Jr., in August 1994. James, who’d dated Hall, was eventually convicted of her murder and sentenced to death.

Now, nearly three decades later, the State of Alabama has scheduled the execution of Joe Nathan James, Jr. for July 28.  But Toni and Terryln Hall, as well as Faith’s brother Helvetius, said they’re opposed to James being put to death. The planned execution has unnecessarily reopened old wounds, the family said, and won’t bring them closure.  James’ death is yet another trauma for all involved, and Gov. Kay Ivey should halt the execution, they said.  Forgiveness should prevail, the family argued, not vengeance....

Each member of the Hall family said their feelings towards James have evolved over time.  Helvetius said that if he’d seen Joe Nathan James the night he murdered Faith Hall, he may have killed him.  “But God was in me,” he said. “And I thank him for it.”

Toni and Terryln both said that for a while, they hated Joe Nathan James.  Toni said that what happened to her mother has impacted her life in ways seen and unseen. James’ actions have had “trickle-down effects,” she said, effects that she’s still trying to cope with today.  She’s more guarded when it comes to intimate relationships.  She’s careful about whom she lets around her children, ages two and four. “It made me hate him,” Toni said.

“For years, I hated him, too,” Terryln added. “But as I got older and started living my life and raising my own kids, I had to find it in my heart to forgive this man.”  And she did forgive him. So did Toni and Helvetius. “I forgive him,” Terryln said. “But I’ll never forget what he did to us.” Toni echoed her sister. “I couldn’t walk around with hate in my heart,” she said.

In the days leading up to Joe Nathan James’ scheduled execution, the Hall family said they feel as though an old wound has been ripped open.  “It’s really bothering me,” Toni said. “To know that someone is going to lose their life.”

The Halls said they are opposed to Alabama executing Joe Nathan James for the murder of Faith Hall.  Toni said she’s even expressed to prosecutors in the case that the family does not want the death penalty carried out against James. “We shouldn’t be playing God,” Toni said. “An eye for an eye has never been a good outlook for life.”

“At the end of the day,” Terryln said, “I feel like no human has to power to kill anyone whether they’re right or wrong.” She said it took her time to come to that conclusion, but she believes it’s the right one.  “I had to look within myself,” she said. “Who am I to judge?”

The Halls said they believe that Faith would not have wanted James executed. “She would’ve forgiven him,” Helvetius said.

The Halls said they plan to travel to Holman Correctional Facility on the evening of the scheduled execution to witness James’ last words.  They said they hope James apologizes for his actions, but that they’ll exit the witness room before the execution takes place either way. “It ain’t going to make no closure for us,” Helvetius said of the execution.

The family said they want Joe Nathan James to know that they do not hate him. If she had the opportunity to speak with James, Toni Hall said she’d make that point clear: “I don’t want you to feel like children grew up hating you,” she said. “And I wish this wasn’t happening to you now.”...

The Halls said that they believe Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey should step in and commute James’ death sentence to life in prison.  They believe their views should hold weight in deciding whether to execute James, although they admit they feel powerless in the situation. “I don’t want it to go forward,” Terryln said. “We’re not God. The Governor is not God.”

James’ blood will not be on their hands, the family said, but on the hands of the state, the governor, and lawmakers who enacted the death penalty. Still, James’ execution will be another trauma for a family that’s already lost so much, they said. “I’ll see him at nighttime when I sleep,” Helvetius said of James. “I don’t need that.”

July 22, 2022 at 11:42 AM | Permalink


With all due respect to this family, there is a public interest in this sentence that goes beyond their wishes.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 22, 2022 12:07:53 PM

I am someone who thinks we can always choose not to execute a person, but tend to agree: the decision of whether or not to do should not hinge on support or opposition from the V's family.

Posted by: John | Jul 22, 2022 12:45:02 PM

Both previous commenters are correct. The crime of murder is an offense against the public, and public law and the public interest get to decide to response. The tort of wrongful death is a civil offense against the victim (or victim's estate and heirs), and private law -- a civil lawsuit -- gets to decide the response.

The prosecutor should give a respectful listen to the victim's family, but it should not control his decision whether to seek the DP. The family is not the client; the public is.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 22, 2022 2:14:08 PM

I disagree with my colleagues on this one. The "public" will (to steal a famous quotation) little note nor long remember this execution. But the family will. They are opposed to the death penalty and will be further traumatised by its imposition.
Who gains by the family's further trauma?

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jul 22, 2022 2:45:43 PM

I agree with Michael Levine. The public rarely even knows who is put to death. It changes nothing in their lives. Nothing. And it does not deter such crimes. This does not mean that I don't think some people may very well deserve to die for what they did, but the public should not then commit a murder.It is possible to hate and despise this person for their crime and also understand that something went terrible wrong in his life to lead to the crime and also understand the pain of his family, not him, but his family. You can hold both feelings at the same time.

Posted by: Mp | Jul 22, 2022 4:53:47 PM

I also think Payne v. TN is wrongly decided for much the same reasons as Bill highlights. The harm being corrected is against the public and the punishment imposed should not turn on whether the victim is a sinner or a saint. (And I've had cases where the V's family has said demonstrably false things about the harm they've suffered, presenting the awful situation of needing to call out of people who deserve nothing but sympathy)

I think the state should take great pains to assist victim's family members, but I do not think the capital punishment process is well suited to bring about healing.

FWIW, I also fully endorse the perspectives of MRL and MP as reasons that the death penalty should not exist. Killing still more people extends the cycle of trauma and violence without any benefit and with great degradation to all involved.

Posted by: John | Jul 24, 2022 12:06:19 AM

The Halls said they are opposed to Alabama executing Joe Nathan James for the murder of Faith Hall. Sad, but too bad. The needs of society outweigh the wishes of one FAMILY of one victim. Justice should be blind to a families pleas when it comes to a DP case. Sentencing YES but not the carrying out of a lawful sentence which is DEATH. The way to value life is to see that killers who ignore life are ridden from the planet as soon as practical.

Posted by: DeanO | Jul 25, 2022 9:39:26 AM

I'm not sure I grasp what you mean by "Sentencing YES but not carrying out of a lawful sentence which is DEATH." Do you mean victim family should get to weigh in at sentencing but not clemency?

Posted by: John | Jul 26, 2022 3:57:43 PM

I am very sorry for the death of your mother and sister and what that harm has done to you. "Faith Hall, was shot to death by Joe Nathan James, Jr., in August 1994"

There are some important points, which need to be made. Your "Comment" (Faith's family) is followed by my "Response".

1) Comment: "Forgiveness should prevail, the family argued, not vengeance."

Response: Forgiveness does and should include justice. God may forgive us but we still die because of our sins, which God finds just (1).

The death penalty, as used in the US, cannot be vengeance.

Neither the prosecutor, no the fact finders, be that judge or jury, can have any connection to the murder, the optional sentences are predetermined, within law, the defendant must be presumed innocent, the due process protections, within pre trial, trial, appeals and within executive clemency or pardon considerations, are, by far, the greatest for any sanction, all of which exclude a vengeance component.

2) Comment: “We shouldn’t be playing God." “We’re not God. The Governor is not God."

Response: There is no playing God, with executions. The death penalty was given to man, by God, to use against murderers (1), as has been detailed for 6,000 years, within the biblical timeline (1), from Genesis through Revelation.

3) Comment: "An eye for an eye has never been a good outlook for life.”

Response: The primary purpose of an "eye for an eye, a life for a life" was to take away the disproportionately harsh punishments of the past and to replace them with more just, merciful and proportional sanctions, punishments that were not too harsh and not to lenient, what we know as justice, today.

4) Comment: “At the end of the day, I feel like no human has to power to kill anyone whether they’re right or wrong.”

Response: We have both the right and the power, under specific circumstances, to kill in self defense, in defense of others, in a just war and with executions, all against unjust aggressors, as morality, ethics and religion have found, since the beginning of history and law.

5) Comment: “I had to look within myself. Who am I to judge?”

Response: You did not make the trial judgement, not would you be allowed to. A judge or jury has the power to judge, which is why we have judges, jurors and law.

Outside of the law, we all have the responsibility to judge, which is how we live our lives, every day, making judgments. It is wise to judge in a manner that we ourselves would liked to be judged, as the famed passage notes.

6) Comment: “It ain’t going to make no closure for us."

Response: There is no closure when we lose someone we love. We will love them forever and their murder will be a harm that never leaves. The wound never heals, it just might get a little better, over time, as you all have stated.

7) Comment: "The Halls said that they believe Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey should step in and commute James’ death sentence to life in prison. They believe their views should hold weight in deciding whether to execute James, although they admit they feel powerless in the situation. 'I don’t want it to go forward.' "

Response: The families views should always hold weight, but are rarely, the deciding factor, as detailed:

95- 99% death penalty support by loved ones of capital murder victims (2). 94% of victims' family members said the imposed death sentence should be carried out (2)

8) Comment: “Taking (James') life is not going to bring Faith back."

Response: The only purpose of sanction is justice under law, with the added hope and reality that it will serve to restrain the evil in some.

I wish you all well and the very best. Most sincerely.


1) Religion and The Death Penalty

2) Poll: Death Penalty
updated 9/29/2021

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