Oklahoma governor grants clemency to Julius Jones, halting his execution. The governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, has granted clemency to Julius Jones, a death row inmate who faced execution on Thursday afternoon.
Following a recommendation from the state pardon and parole board, Stitt, a Republican, acted with hours to spare before the scheduled state killing.
Stitt reduced Jones’s sentence for the murder in 1999 of Paul Howell, a businessman in the affluent Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The parole board had recommended life with the possibility of parole.
Jones, 41, has maintained his innocence for more than two decades but had been scheduled to receive a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in McAlester.
“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Stitt said in a statement.
The impending execution had prompted protests across Oklahoma and the US. Students at high schools across Oklahoma City walked out of classes. Prayer vigils were held at the state capitol and barricades were erected outside the governor’s mansion.
Even Baker Mayfield, quarterback for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, weighed in. The Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma is among several high-profile athletes and entertainers who have weighed in on Jones’s case.
“Yeah, it’s pretty rough, to be honest with you,” Mayfield told reporters on Wednesday, pausing and his eyes filling with tears. “That’s not something that’s easy to talk about. Been trying to get the facts stated and the truth to be told for a while. It’s a shame that it’s gotten this far, 24 hours away.“
Before his decision, Stitt met with Jones’s attorneys and Howell’s family.
Jones’s mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, who tried unsuccessfully to meet Stitt on Monday, spoke to about 300 people, many students from high schools, who gathered on Wednesday outside Stitt’s office, chanting and singing hymns.
“I don’t want to go to a lynching tomorrow,” Davis-Jones said. “Why would I want to see someone hang? We should be through with that. Do you want your baby, your child to be hanged?”
Jones maintains he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and co-defendant who testified against him and was released after 15 years. State and county prosecutors said the evidence against Jones was overwhelming.
Trial transcripts showed witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators found the murder weapon wrapped in a bandanna with Jones’s DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones says the weapon was placed there by the actual killer.
The pardon and parole board twice voted 3-1 to recommend clemency.
Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, testified she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother in front of his two young daughters.
“He is the same person today as he was 22 years ago. He’s still getting into trouble. He’s still in a gang. He’s still lying. And he still feels no shame, guilt or remorse for his action,” Tobey said. “We need Julius Jones to be held responsible.”
In a separate vote on Wednesday, the board voted 3-2 to grant clemency to another death row inmate, Bigler Stouffer, citing concerns with state lethal injection protocols. Stouffer is scheduled to die on 9 December.
Jones’s case was profiled in The Last Defense, a documentary produced by the actor Viola Davis for ABC in 2018. After that, Kim Kardashian West and athletes with Oklahoma ties, including Mayfield and NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, urged Stitt to commute Jones’s sentence.
Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions – brought on by concerns over its lethal injection methods – last month. John Marion Grant, 60, convulsed and vomited as he was being put to death 28 October.
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