OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City high school students stepped out of their classrooms. Prayer vigils were held at the State Capitol and barricades were erected outside the governor’s mansion. Even Baker Mayfield, NFL Cleveland Browns quarterback, weighed in on Oklahoma’s most high-profile execution in decades.
Julius Jones, 41, who has been claiming his innocence for more than two decades, is due to receive a lethal injection Thursday at McAlester State Penitentiary for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, a wealthy suburban businessman from ‘Oklahoma City in Edmond.
Mayfield, a University of Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner, is among several top athletes and performers who have weighed in on Jones’ case, urging Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt to commute his sentence and spare his life .
“Yeah, that’s tough enough, to be honest with you,” Mayfield said Wednesday, pausing and his eyes filling with tears. “It’s not something easy to talk about. I had been trying to get the facts out and tell the truth for a while.
“It’s a shame he got so far, 24 hours later. “
Stitt has been quiet about the case, but has met with Jones’ attorneys and Howell’s family.
Jones’ mother Madeline-Davis-Jones, who tried unsuccessfully to meet with Stitt on Monday, spoke to a group of about 300 people, many of whom were students from neighboring high schools, who gathered on the Capitol on Wednesday in the outside Stitt’s office, sung and sang hymns.
“I don’t want to go to a lynching tomorrow,” Davis-Jones said, his 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.
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said “the governor takes his role seriously in this process and is carefully considering the recommendation of the Pardons and Parole Board as he does in all cases.”
Paul 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 doesn’t feel any shame, guilt or remorse for his action, ”Tobey said. “We need Julius Jones to be held accountable. “
In a separate vote on Wednesday, the same council voted 3-2 to grant clemency to another death row inmate, Bigler Stouffer, citing concerns about the state’s lethal injection protocols. Stouffer is due to die on December 9.
Jones’ case was featured in “The Last Defense,” a three-part documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. Since then, Kim Kardashian West and athletes with ties to the Oklahoma, whose Mayfield and NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence.
Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions – sparked by concerns over its lethal injection methods – last month. John Marion Grant, 60, had seizures and vomited while being put to death on October 28.
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.