Oklahoma’s governor has spared the life of death row inmate Julius Jones just hours before his scheduled execution. Governor Kevin Stitt on Thursday commuted Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jones’ attorney, Amanda Bass, applauded the governor’s decision. “Governor Stitt took an important step today towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man,” Bass said in a statement.
“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, we are grateful that the Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.”
In 1999, Jones was 19 years old when he was convicted for the murder of businessman Paul Howell, who was shot in the driveway of his parent’s home. Witnesses told police they saw a Black man with a red bandanna and 1 to 2 inches of hair shoot Howell and steal his SUV.
Three days later, Jones was arrested for matching the suspect’s description but his family claims his head was shaved and he was at home during the time of the shooting.
Jones and his family have argued that his death row sentencing only took place because of injustices in the legal system. They allege Jones was not allowed to testify about specific details and witnesses were not cross-examined because of an inexperienced public defender. He has maintained his innocence and said that race played a role in his conviction.
Jones, now 41, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 4 p.m. CT. Celebrities, professional athletes, and activists plead with Stitt for months to grant him clemency.
Hours before the scheduled execution, Jones’ attorneys made a last effort to spare his life by filing an emergency motion seeking an injunction against his execution. They cited “important new evidence” about a recent “botched” execution in Oklahoma and requested a trial on the constitutionality of the state’s execution protocol.
Oklahoma’s attorney general, John O’Connor, said Thursday he is “greatly disappointed” the past work of investigators and legal teams on Jones’ case “have been set aside.”
“A thorough review of the evidence confirms Julius Jones’ guilt in this case and that the death penalty was warranted,” O’Connor wrote in a statement. “Our office will continue to work for justice and for the safety of all Oklahomans, including families like Paul Howell’s.”