On Thursday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) stopped the execution of an inmate convicted of murder, instead commuting his sentence to life in prison with no parole.
Governor Stitt released a statement saying, “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.”
The announcement from the governor’s office further explained:
Article 6, Section 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution gives the Governor power to grant commutations “upon such conditions and with such restrictions and limitations as the Governor may deem proper.”
Pursuant to that provision, the Governor has ordered that Jones shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life.
Julius Jones was set to be executed at 4 p.m. local time on Thursday. He was convicted of murdering Paul Howell in the midst of a carjacking in 1999. Jones has maintained he did not commit the crime, even though the Howell family still believes that he is guilty.
As reported by Fox News, “Jones maintains he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and co-defendant who testified against him and was released from prison after 15 years.”
Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, testified to the Pardon and Parole Board “that she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother in front of his two young daughters,” the outlet noted.
“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.”
The Pardon and Parole Board had given the recommendation that Jones’ sentence be changed to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
As reported by CNN, the case received much focus in the past few years, partially because of an ABC documentary series, “The Last Defense,” which detailed his situation in 2018.
A change.org petition has also received over 6 million signatures asking the governor to stop the execution from going through.
The online petition stated:
At the time of the crime for which he was convicted, Julius was a 19-year-old student athlete with a promising future, attending the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship. It is clear that Julius’ lawyer did not adequately defend him, and that explicit racial bias played a significant role in the process.
It went on to note that “Eyewitnesses place Mr. Jones at his parents’ home at the time of the murder, miles away from the crime scene.”
“Mr. Jones’ co-defendant admitted to being involved in the crime and is now free after testifying against Julius. He was heard bragging that he ‘set Julius up.’ Mr. Jones’ co-defendant matches the only eyewitness description of the shooter based on the length of his hair,” it added.
“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,” CNN noted.
Protestors came together outside of the governor’s residence in Oklahoma in recent days to push the governor to take action. Celebrities have also gotten involved in highlighting the case, such as reality television star and businesswoman Kim Kardashian, as well as actor Kerry Washington, and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Students at Oklahoma City high schools staged walkouts in defiance of the execution as well.
Jones’ mother also spoke out at a press conference on the night before the scheduled execution.
“If you think Julius is guilty, give him a fair trial. Do it over again, do it right!” Davis-Jones said as the crowd cheered. “If my child is executed tomorrow or any day, it should be without a doubt. Not even a little bit of doubt.”
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