Monday, December 6, 2021

Governor of Oklahoma commuted death sentence to Julius Jones

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted the death sentence of convicted prisoner Julius Jones on Thursday, just hours before his scheduled execution.

Jones proclaimed his innocence on death row for over two decades in the 1999 murder of a businessman from a suburb of Oklahoma City.

Stitt commuted the death sentence for 41-year-old Jones to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was scheduled for execution at 16:00.

“After prayerfully reviewing and studying the material submitted by all parties to this case, I decided to commute Julius Jones’s sentence to life in prison without parole,” Stitt said in a press release.

The crowd that gathered inside the Oklahoma Capitol in support of Jones erupted into loud applause and applause after the decision was announced shortly Thursday afternoon.

Earlier Thursday, Jones’ lawyers filed a last-minute emergency request demanding a temporary halt to his execution, saying Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures pose “a serious and substantial risk of severe suffering and pain for prisoners,” and citing the execution last month in which John Marion Grant shuddered and vomited as he was executed.

The State Board of Pardons and Parole recommended on November 1, by a 3: 1 vote, that Stitt commute Jones ‘sentence to life in prison, with several commissioners agreeing that they had doubts about the evidence that led to Jones’ conviction.

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Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the murder of businessman Edmond Paul Howell in 1999 during a car theft.

The Jones case gained widespread attention after it was covered in The Final Defense, a three-episode documentary directed by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. Since then, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and Oklahoma-related athletes including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, and Trey Young have called on Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life.

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Jones claims he was framed by a real killer, a high school friend, and a former co-accused who was a key witness against him. But Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater and former Attorney General Mike Hunter said the evidence against Jones was undeniable.

Information from the court records shows that witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen car. Investigators also found the murder weapon, wrapped in a scarf with Jones’ DNA, in the attic above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his replacement application that the gun and handkerchief were planted there by the real killer, who was at Jones’ house after the murder.

Howell’s sister, Megan Toby, and two young daughters were in Howell’s SUV when the car was stolen in his parents’ driveway in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond.

Toby testified before the council that she vividly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother.

“Today he is the same person as he was 22 years ago. He still has problems. He’s still in the gang. He’s still lying. And he still doesn’t feel ashamed, guilty or remorseful for his actions, ”Toby said. “We need to bring Julius Jones to justice.”

Oklahoma last month lifted a six-year moratorium on executions over fears of lethal injections. Grant, 60, suffered from convulsions and vomiting before his death on 28 October.

Grant was the first person in Oklahoma to be executed following a series of mistaken lethal injections in 2014 and 2015. Richard Glossip was just hours away from his execution in September 2015 when prison authorities realized they had the wrong lethal drug. It was later revealed that in January 2015, the same wrong drug was used to execute a prisoner.

A drug confusion followed a failed execution in April 2014, when inmate Clayton Lockett fought on a gurney before dying 43 minutes after lethal injection – and after the state jail governor ordered his executioners to stop.

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