The governor did the right thing. READ Death Penalty Letter – Worth Publishing again in 2019, with some now calling for more death penalty statutes! – kra
Excerpts from the Article:
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has granted clemency to Julius Jones, commuting Jones’ death sentence just hours before he was scheduled to be executed for a 1999 murder he says he did not commit.
Jones’ sentence will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to an executive order filed Thursday. Jones was scheduled to be executed at 4 p.m. CT.
The Republican governor came to the decision following “prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board had recommended Jones’ sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole in a 3-1 vote on November 1.
However, in his executive order, Stitt said neither the state constitution nor state law give the board the authority to recommend that commutation, nor do they give the governor the authority to grant it. As a result, the governor was commuting Jones’ sentence with the condition that he “shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life,” the order says.
In her own statement, Jones attorney Amanda Bass called the governor’s decision an “important step towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man.”
“While we had hoped the Governor would adopt the Board’s recommendation in full by commuting Julius’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole in light of the overwhelming evidence of Julius’s innocence,” Bass said, “we are grateful that the Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.”
The 11th-hour decision comes after years of protest over Jones’ death sentence. He had been convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years, but he, his family, attorneys and supporters say he is innocent.
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.
Jones, 19 at the time, was arrested on July 31, the day after authorities found the murder weapon wrapped in a red bandana inside his family’s home.
He was tried alongside a co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a robbery, per online court records. Jordan testified against Jones, who was convicted and sentenced to death.
“I know what it is like to have a loved one ripped away from you and to constantly relive that loss. I hope and pray they find healing and peace,” Davis-Jones said.
The case has been marked by stark conflicts over the evidence against Jones, as well as questions about the reliability of the testimony of his co-defendant.
Then there’s the issue of alleged racial bias in the case. According to the petition, one juror said they heard another juror refer to Jones as the n-word. Additionally, when Jones was arrested, a police officer also called him the n-word, the petition alleges.
The AG’s office contests claims of racial bias, noting the juror who claimed to have heard another use the n-word did not specifically raise the issue during Jones’ trial. She had brought to the court’s attention another comment made by a juror, but per the AG’s office, an appellate found it unlikely the juror would fail to mention the racial epithet when she’d reported the other comment.
Jones and his supporters, however, have similarly repudiated these arguments.