An Alabama inmate convicted of killing his former girlfriend decades ago was executed Thursday night despite pleas from the victim’s family to spare his life.
Joe Nathan James Jr. received a lethal injection at a south Alabama prison after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his request for a stay.
James was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1994 shooting death of Faith Hall, 26, in Birmingham. Hall's daughters have said they would rather James serve life in prison, but Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Wednesday that she planned to let the execution proceed.
Prosecutors said James briefly dated Hall and he became obsessed after she rejected him, stalking and harassing her for months before killing her. On Aug. 15, 1994, after Hall had been out shopping with a friend, James forced his way inside the friend's apartment, pulled a gun from his waistband and shot Hall three times, according to court documents.
A Jefferson County jury first convicted James of capital murder in 1996 and voted to recommend the death penalty, which a judge imposed. The conviction was overturned when a state appeals court ruled a judge had wrongly admitted some police reports into evidence. James was retried and again sentenced to death in 1999, when jurors rejected defense claims that he was under emotional duress at the time of the shooting.
Hall’s two daughters, who were 3 and 6 when their mother was killed, had said recently that they would rather James serve life in prison. The family members issued a statement Thursday saying they will not attend the execution.
“Today is a tragic day for our family. We are having to relive the hurt that this caused us many years ago," the statement issued through state Rep. Juandalynn Givan's office read. Givan was a friend of Hall's.
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"We hoped the state wouldn’t take a life simply because a life was taken and we have forgiven Mr. Joe Nathan James Jr. for his atrocities toward our family. ... We pray that God allows us to find healing after today and that one day our criminal justice system will listen to the cries of families like ours even if it goes against what the state wishes," the family's statement read.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall had urged Ivey to let the execution go forward, writing that “it is our obligation to ensure that justice is done for the people of Alabama.”
“The jury in James’s case unanimously decided that his brutal murder of Faith Hall warranted a sentence of death,” Marshall said.
In response to a reporter's question, Ivey said Wednesday that she would not intervene.
“My staff and I have researched all the records and all the facts and there’s no reason to change the procedure or modify the outcome. The execution will go forward," she said.
James argued that Ivey's refusal violates religious freedom laws because the Koran and the Bible “place the concept of forgiveness paramount in this situation.”
James acted as his own attorney in his bid to stop his execution, mailing handwritten lawsuits and appeal notices to the courts from death row. A lawyer filed the latest appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on his behalf Wednesday. But the request for a stay was rejected about 30 minutes before the execution was set to begin.
James asked justices for a stay, noting the opposition of Hall's family and arguing that Alabama did not give inmates adequate notice of their right to select an alternate execution method.
The state argued that James waited too late to begin trying to postpone his execution and “should not be rewarded for his transparent attempt to game the system." While the feelings of the victim's family deserve to be considered, it said, they aren't reason for a court to delay the execution.
James argued that after lawmakers approved nitrogen hypoxia as a new execution method, Alabama officials gave inmates only a brief window of time to select the new method and inmates did not know what was at stake when they were handed a selection form without any explanation. Alabama is not scheduling executions for inmates who selected nitrogen. The state has not developed a system for using nitrogen to carry out death sentences.