BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Terryln Hall remembers the people. They’d come and go, one after the other, in and out of her grandmother’s house. She didn’t really understand why.
Her younger sister, Toni Hall, remembers when her grandmother got the phone call. She remembers her collapsing onto the ground, grief overtaking her. But at first, she didn’t understand why either. She was too young. They both were.
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.
Remembering Faith Hall
It’s difficult for Toni and Terryln to remember many details about their mom. Toni remembers being a “clingy kid.” Faith had worked at the Sheraton in downtown Birmingham, Toni said, and she’d sometimes take Toni with her. Terryln said what she remembers most is simply being cared for by her mother.
“Me and my sister would never go without,” she said. “It was always good times with our mama.”
For Helvetius Hall, it’s not difficult to remember Faith Hall. He’d never want to forget.
Helvetius was two years younger than his sister. He said that growing up, he and Faith quickly learned they could rely on each other.
“She was a loving, caring, concerned young lady,” he said. “She cared about people. She cared about family. She loved her two daughters.”
Helvetius said that Faith had always provided him with the support he needed.
“She was my backbone,” he said. “She would fix whatever problem I had. I truly miss her.”
On August 15, 1994, Helvetius got the call from Tammy Sneed.
“He shot your sister,” he remembers her saying. “Jam shot your sister.”
Helvetius knew that Faith Hall had been having some problems with Joe Nathan James, nicknamed “Jam,” but he never suspected that the issues would lead to this. He made his way as fast as he could to Carraway Hospital in Birmingham.
“By the time I got there, she was gone,” he said. “It was a devastation for our family.”
It took some time for the news of their mother’s death to sink in with Toni and Terryln.
Toni said she remembers her grandfather sitting her down to explain what death would mean.
“Your mother’s not coming back,” she remembers him saying.
“I was lost from that point,” Toni said. It would take time to find herself again.
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.
A wound reopened
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.”
“We’re not mad at you,” Helvetius added. “You really hurt the Hall family. You took a big part of our life from us.”
The Halls hold no animosity for James, though, Helvetius said.
“We’re praying for his family,” he said.
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.”
What Helvetius does need is something he can never have – his sister back with him, being his “backbone” as she had been for all those years.
Every day, he said, he wishes his sister was still alive. “We really didn’t have nothing growing up, but we had each other,” he said. “Whatever the situation, she was able to talk with sense. I was a hothead, but she would tell me how to handle things. I miss that.”
But Helvetius knows all too well: no matter what happens on July 28, Faith Hall will still be gone. Forgiveness, then, should prevail, he said, not vengeance.
“Taking his life is not going to bring Faith back,” he said.