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Alabama death row inmate’s Hail Mary turned away by high court

The victim’s family pleaded with state officials to allow an Alabama death row inmate to serve life in prison instead of facing execution.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch effort from an Alabama death row inmate asking the court to stop his execution after the state’s governor shot down a plea from the victim’s family. 

Joe Nathan James Jr. — who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday evening — filed an emergency stay application attempting to halt his execution on Wednesday night. On Thursday, James amended his plea to challenge his execution under the Alabama Religious Freedom Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act.

He claims the Koran and the Bible will be violated if he is executed despite the victim’s family’s wishes. James filed an additional motion on Thursday claiming the execution would violate his First Amendment rights as a Muslim and the First Amendment rights of the victims. 

The high court denied the applications just 30 minutes before James’ scheduled execution. The emergency applications were submitted to Justice Clarence Thomas and referred to the court. The court provided no explanation for its ruling and recorded no dissents. 

James shot his then 26-year-old former girlfriend Faith Hall in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. According to prosecutors, James became obsessed with Hall after she broke things off between the two. James began stalking and harassing her, ultimately culminating in him shooting her three times in her apartment on Aug. 15, 1994. 

Hall had two daughters — only 3 and 6 years old — at the time of her death. Now almost 28 years later, Hall’s daughters — along with her brother — urged the state to allow James to live, serving life in prison instead of facing death for their mother’s killing. 

The application before the court includes a news article from CBS 42 where Hall’s family members expressed opposition to James’ execution. 

Terryln Hall — who was 6 years old when her mother was killed — is cited telling a CBS 42 reporter that she does not want James to be put to death because she doesn’t believe it's her or the governor’s decision to make when someone dies. She also said it wasn’t going to bring her mother back or give the family any more closure. 

“I don’t want it to go forward,” Hall said. “We’re not God. The governor is not God. Taking his life is not going to bring Faith back. It ain’t going to make no closure for us.” 

However, state officials do not agree with Hall’s family’s assessment of justice. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the execution plans should move forward and Governor Kay Ivey agreed

“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,” Ivey said. “The execution will go forward.”

Claiming his lawyers were ineffective, James took halting his execution into his own hands acting as his own attorney. James alleges that prison officials did not inform him that he could choose nitrogen hypoxia — a method claimed to be more humane by some but untested by others — as his preferred execution method. While Alabama has approved nitrogen hypoxia for use, the state has yet to develop a system to use it. 

However, before the high court, James is being represented by James J. Ransom III. 

James claims the court delayed his appeal, creating a time crunch to get relief. However, Alabama in a response brief said the “emergency” in this application is one of James’ own creation. 

“Petitioner unreasonably delayed bringing his successive postconviction challenge until his execution was barely a month away, giving the state court little time to weigh his claims,” Marshall wrote in the state’s response brief. 

He continued, “Even then, he made no attempts to seek expedited consideration of his claims in Jefferson County Circuit Court. He filed no motions for timely rulings, no emergency motions, and requested no expedited review in the petitions themselves — including the counseled amended petition filed just two weeks before his scheduled execution. Thus, the ‘emergency’ behind James’s emergency application is one of his own creation — and is reason enough to deny his application.”

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