After 26 years on Alabama’s death row, Joe Nathan James was executed Thursday night despite the objections of the victim’s family.
In 1994, James shot and killed 26-year-old Faith Hall after she broke off a short-lived relationship with him. Hall was the mother of two daughters, who were three and six at the time.
Now fully grown, Hall’s daughters lobbied to have 49-year-old James’s life spared.
“I don’t want [the execution] to go forward,” Terrlyn Hall told a local CBS affiliate.
“An eye for an eye has never been a good outlook for life,” said Toni Hall, her sister.
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James had petitioned the US Supreme Court to stay his execution “pursuant to the wishes of the surviving members of the family of the victim.”
“The victims and their families are paramount in our justice system, and deserve to be heard on the matter of the ultimate punishment of offenders,” James’s lawyer said in an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Let me first say that it is a great credit to the victim’s daughters that they have been able to forgive their mother’s killer and move on with their lives. Living with hate and vengeance is no way to live. These are admirable women who should be applauded—especially in a dysfunctional society such as ours where wielding your victimhood and trauma forever is treated as a virtue.
Nevertheless, it is not, nor should it ever be, up to the victim or the victim’s family to decide punishment. That’s not how our system works. That’s not how our system should work.
If these girls were calling for their mother’s killer to be tortured to death with hammers and pliers, we would sympathize with them while understanding that’s not how things are done.
That’s the same approach we should take regarding their call for leniency.
It’s simply not up to them.
There’s a reason why criminal proceedings are not “the victim vs. the alleged perpetrator,” but “the people of the state of New York vs. the alleged perp,” or “the people of the county of this or that vs. the alleged perp.” When someone commits a crime, it is against we the people, against society—not an individual, not even the victim.
For the system to function objectively, we cannot allow individuals, not even the victims, to have a say in how things are adjudicated.
This Joe Nathan James committed a crime against all of us. He took a life. He murdered a member of our society. Justice requires he pay for that. It’s fine if he repents, and I hope he did. Repentance and reform are important. But you must still pay for your crime. And that price is up to the people the crime was committed against—the people.
Also, 26 years on death row is not an eye for an eye. Joe Nathan James was given every opportunity to ensure he had a fair trial. Further, he was given a quarter century to make peace with his Maker. Both of those things he stole from his victim, as well as her life.