Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday commuted Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole amid protests and a last-minute appeal that argued the process of execution of the state amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment”.
Stitt’s announcement came after Jones’ supporters staged days of protests ahead of his scheduled execution, which was scheduled to take place Thursday at 5 p.m. ET at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Jones, 41, maintained his innocence for more than two decades in the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, a businessman from affluent Oklahoma City suburb, in Edmond.
“After prayerfully considering and reviewing the documents presented by all parties to this case, I have decided to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Stitt said in a statement.
“I want to say thank you to our honorable governor, thank you, thank you god, thank you Jesus,” Jones’s sister Antoinette Jones said moments after the governor’s office was announced. “I want to thank everyone for continuing to tell Julius’ story. Thanks to the world.
Jones’ attorneys on Thursday filed a motion seeking an injunction to stay his execution based on ‘significant new evidence’ of the Oct. 28 execution of inmate John Grant, who repeatedly vomited and convulsed before being pronounced dead. The petition argued that Grant’s execution provides “compelling evidence” that the execution process in Oklahoma and the use of midazolam, a controversial drug, “poses a serious and substantial risk of suffering and pain. for prisoners ”.
Moments after the announcement, more than a hundred supporters who had gathered outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary that morning rejoiced, and members of the clergy led the group in prayer and in songs.
In Oklahoma City, protesters gathered outside the state capital’s governor’s office also celebrated the decision. Stitt’s decision fell on the edge. Members of the press had started to gather inside the prison to prepare for the execution, a few hours away.
According to protocol, Jones had already been placed in solitary confinement for his fatal injection, and on Wednesday he was fed what was to be his last meal.
Oklahoma City high school students walked out of their classrooms to support Jones’ appeal on Wednesday. Prayer vigils were held at the State Capitol and barricades were erected outside the governor’s mansion. Celebrities have made her case on Twitter and other social media.
“Thousands of people across Oklahoma, the country and the world have called on the governor to stop Oklahoma from executing an innocent man,” Jones attorney Amanda Bass said in a statement earlier Thursday. , adding: “Our hope is that the Governor will ensure that this execution does not continue given the many concerns about the execution process and Mr. Jones’ case.”
Jones’ mother Madeline-Davis-Jones spoke to a group of around 300 who gathered on the Capitol in front of Stitt’s office on Wednesday, chanting and singing hymns.
“I don’t want to go to a lynching,” she said, her voice rising with emotion. “… Why would I want to see someone hanged?” We should be done with this. Do you want your baby, your child to be hanged? “
Jones maintains he was trapped by the real killer, a high school friend and co-defendant who testified against him and was released from prison after 15 years.
State and county prosecutors said the evidence against Jones was overwhelming. Trial transcripts show witnesses identified Jones as the gunman and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon wrapped in a bandana with Jones’ DNA in an attic above his bedroom. Jones claims the murder weapon was placed there by the actual killer, who visited Jones’ house after Howell was shot.
The state Pardons and Parole Board twice voted 3-1 to recommend that Stitt grant Jones clemency and commute his sentence to life in prison.
“I believe that there should be no doubt in the death penalty cases, and to put it simply, I have doubts in this case,” President Adam Luck said in September following the vote on the board of directors.
Howell’s sister Megan Tobey testified before the board that she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother in front of his two young daughters.
“He’s the same person today as he was 22 years ago. He’s still in trouble. He’s still in a gang. He’s still lying. And he still feels no shame, guilt or remorse for his action, ”she said. “We need Julius Jones to be held accountable. “
Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions – sparked by concerns over its lethal injection methods – last month with Grant’s death.
Grant was the first person in Oklahoma to be executed since a series of deadly flawed injections in 2014 and 2015 led to a de facto moratorium. Richard Glossip was only hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they had been given the deadly wrong drug. It was later learned that the same bad drug was used to execute an inmate in January 2015.
The drug mixes followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a stretcher before dying 43 minutes after his fatal injection – and after the state prison chief ordered to the executioners to stop.
In a separate vote on Wednesday, the Pardons and Parole Board voted 3 to 2 to recommend leniency to another death row inmate, Bigler Stouffer, citing concerns about the state’s lethal injection protocols. Stouffer is due to die on December 9.