Governor Stops Execution With Just Hours to Spare

Oklahoma's Kevin Stitt commutes sentence of Julius Jones to life in prison
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2021 7:58 AM CST
Updated Nov 18, 2021 12:29 PM CST
Supporters Urge Governor to Halt High-Profile Execution
People pray during a service for Julius Jones at the State capitol in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.   (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP)

Update: Julius Jones will not die on Thursday after all. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the sentence of the convicted murderer to life in prison without the possibility of parole just hours before Jones' scheduled execution, reports the AP. Jones has always maintained his innocence, and he has picked up a legion of high-profile advocates. Our original story from earlier Thursday follows:

Tensions are running high in Oklahoma, where Julius Jones, a 41-year-old Black man who has been on death row for 19 years, will be executed by lethal injection Thursday unless Gov. Kevin Stitt intervenes. Jones was found guilty in 2002 of the 1999 murder of businessman Paul Howell, though he insists he was framed and the parole board has twice voted 3-1 to commute his sentence to life in prison. His relatives say he had an inexperienced public defender and he was only convicted because of injustices in the system. More:

  • Supporters gather at the Capitol. Supporters including mother Madeline Davis-Jones delivered speeches inside the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, urging the Republican governor to commute the sentences, KFOR reports. Earlier this week, relatives hand-delivered a letter to Stitt's office but two requests to speak with the governor in person were denied.

  • The background. Jones' case got fresh attention after it was profiled in The Last Defense in 2018, the AP reports. He says the real killer was co-defendant Christopher Jordan, who testified against him and was released from prison after 15 years. Jones says Jordan visited his home after Howell was shot and planted the murder weapon in an attic space over his bedroom. Jones' relatives say he was at home when Howell was shot, though trial transcripts show witnesses identified him as the shooter. CBS reports, however, that witnesses said the gunman had 1 to 2 inches of hair, and relatives said Jones' head was shaved at the time.
  • Prayers at the governor's mansion. Dozens of supporters prayed outside the governor's mansion in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, the Oklahoman reports. Some planned to reconvene Thursday morning two hours away outside the state penitentiary in McAlester, where Jones is scheduled to be executed at 4pm.
  • Pastor arrested. KFOR reports that Oklahoma City pastor Derrick Scobey was arrested Wednesday evening for standing in the street outside the governor's mansion. Scobey said it was an act of civil disobedience and encouraged others to join him. Students at multiple Oklahoma schools walked out Wednesday morning to protest the execution.

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  • Mother calls it a "lynching." Davis-Jones compared the impending execution to a lynching at a news conference Wednesday night. "If you think Julius is guilty, give him a fair trial. Do it over again, do it right!" she said, per CNN. "If my child is executed tomorrow or any day, it should be without a doubt. Not even a little bit of doubt."
  • Celebrity supporters. CBS reports that numerous athletes and celebrities have rallied around Jones, including Kim Kardashian. "This is the cold machinery of the Death Penalty in America," she tweeted Tuesday. NBA stars with Oklahoma ties, including Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, and Trae Young, have also called for clemency.
  • NFL star speaks out. Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who wrote to Stitt in support of Jones last year, became emotional when asked about the case Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. "It’s a shame that it’s gotten this far," Mayfield said. "We’re 24 hours away, so it’s tough, and hopefully God can intervene and handle it correctly."
(More Oklahoma stories.)

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