EXECUTION STOPPED: Julius Jones death sentence commuted, will serve life in prison
Julius Jones is scheduled to be executed today at 4 p.m. CT unless Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt grants him clemency.
Even as the clock is winding down, the Republican governor has still not said whether he will accept a recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon
and Parole Board, which voted 3-1 on November 1 to commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt granted clemency to death row inmate Julius Jones about four hours ahead of his scheduled execution.
Jones will serve a life sentence without the possibility for parole.
“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.”
“This governor has nothing to pray about, he has a decision to make,” said Cece Jones-Davis, director for the Justice for Julius campaign, in reference to reports the governor had been in “deep prayer” about the decision.
Attorneys for Julius Jones and other Oklahoma death row inmates filed an emergency motion Thursday only a few hours ahead of Jones’s scheduled execution in McAlester.
The motion filed in federal court seeks an injunction to hold off on the execution citing evidence from the killing of John Grant that cast doubt on the state’s lethal injection procedure.
They also noted that their motion only had to be filed so close to the execution time because Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt had not yet granted clemency to Jones.
“The Execution Protocol and the use of midazolam, as well as the cursory consciousness checks done under the Protocol, pose a serious and substantial risk of severe suffering and pain to prisoners,” the attorneys say in the motion.
“Governor, you still have a chance, you still have time,” she said. “You have time Gov. Stitt to get this right.”
The 11th-hour decision comes after years of protest over Jones’ death sentence.
Jones’ mother expressed concern Wednesday night about the governor’s inaction so far. “I really don’t know what to say to him because he has assured us he would make the decision swift,” Madeline Davis-Jones told CNN’s Don Lemon. “And if this is swift, we’re in trouble again.”
Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years in connection with the 1999 murder of Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones says he’s innocent, as do his family, attorneys and supporters. Howell’s family remains convinced of Jones’ guilt.
Jones’ clemency petition says he’s been on death row because of “fundamental breakdowns in the system tasked with deciding” his guilt, including ineffective and inexperienced defense attorneys, racial bias among his jury and alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
“Our hope is that the Governor will ensure that this execution does not go forward given the many concerns about the execution process and Mr. Jones’s case,” his attorney, Amanda Bass, said Thursday in a statement.
Supporters protest at governor’s mansion
Jones’ case has attracted widespread attention in recent years, in part due to the ABC documentary series “The Last Defense,” which spotlighted his case in 2018. And more than 6 million people have signed an online Change.org Justice for Julius petition asking Stitt to intervene and prevent his execution.
That support has only ramped up with the impending execution date. Supporters have gathered near the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City over the past few nights, and some even set up tents overnight, CNN affiliate KOCO reported.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Jones’ mother described her son’s scheduled execution as a lynching.
“If you think Julius is guilty, give him a fair trial. Do it over again, do it right!” Davis-Jones said as the crowd erupted in applause. “If my child is executed tomorrow or any day, it should be without a doubt. Not even a little bit of doubt.”
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian — who has long advocated against Jones’ death sentence — actors Kerry Washington and Mandy Patinkin, and even professional athletes like Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield have been using their voices in calling for the governor to spare Jones.
“It’s a shame it’s gotten this far,” Mayfield told reporters Wednesday as he teared up. Mayfield played football at the University of Oklahoma. “Hopefully God can intervene and handle it correctly and do the things He needs to do.”
Support for Jones has also gone international, with a representative from the European Union weighing in via a letter to Stitt.
“We respectfully urge you to exercise all powers vested in your office to grant clemency to Mr. Julius Jones,” wrote Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Ambassador to the US.
Victim’s daughter says the family has been ‘re-victimized’
Howell was killed in a carjacking the night of July 28, 1999. Around 9:30 p.m., Howell, his adult sister and his daughters pulled into his parents’ driveway in his 1997 Suburban, according to court documents. Howell’s sister told his daughters to gather their belongings and was exiting the vehicle when she heard a gunshot, court documents say.
Howell’s sister glanced back, court documents say, and saw a Black man who she said was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt, a black cap and a red bandana over his face. The shooter fired again as Howell’s sister and his daughters ran to the house, documents say. Howell died about 1:45 the next morning.