Joe Nathan James: Alabama set to execute death row inmate despite pleas from victim’s family not to

Joe Nathan James Jr. was found guilty and sentenced to death for shooting and killing Smith, 26, whom he dated in the early 1990s. The state of Alabama has set his execution for 6 p.m. Thursday – but Smith’s daughter, Terrlyn Hall, told CNN affiliate WBMA this week that the family hopes James will instead be sentenced to life without parole.

« He was a loving, forgiving person, » Hall said of his mother. « I’m sure if she was here today, or if she was in this situation, she would want to forgive. »

« We don’t think (the execution) is necessary because it won’t bring her back, » she added.

Helvetius Hall, Smith’s brother, also pushed for a prison sentence instead of death.

« He did a horrible thing, » he told the affiliate. « He’s suffered enough and I don’t think taking his life is going to make our life any better. »

The execution is set to come after more than 25 years of legal appeals in the James case. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey did not respond to a CNN request for comment on the execution.

James and Smith had a ‘volatile’ relationship and after their breakup he stalked and harassed her, went to her house uninvited and threatened to kill her and her ex-husband, according to a file of the United States Court of Appeals summarizing the case. In 1994, he followed her to a friend’s house and then shot her three times, killing her, the file says.

A Jefferson County jury found him guilty of murdering Smith and recommended the death penalty in 1996, but the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction based on an erroneous admission of evidence hearsay, says the appeals court.

Before the new trial, James’ legal team reached a plea deal with prosecutors in which he would receive life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea, but James rejected that plan, the filing shows.

5-4 Supreme Court paves way for execution in Alabama

“James explained that he was doing pretty well on death row – he had his own room, his own TV that he could control to watch whatever he wanted and lots of reading material,” says the folder. « He didn’t have to worry about being attacked by other prisoners because he was always one-on-one with the guards. »

At the retrial, a jury again convicted James of capital murder and sentenced him to death in 1999, and the appeals courts upheld the decision. In 2020, the United States Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and dismissed James’ claim of ineffective counsel.

A motion to stay his execution was denied by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Tuesday.

The state of Alabama last executed a man in January after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a lower court ruling seeking to block the execution. Matthew Reeves, who was convicted of the robbery and murder of Willie Johnson in 1996, was executed less than two hours later.
Alabama currently has 166 people on death row. The next scheduled state execution is of Alan Eugene Miller on September 22, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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