Julius Jones was scheduled to be executed Thursday at 4 p.m. CT. But on Wednesday and through the morning Thursday, his family and supporters pressed for a clemency: they were successful.
At 11:47 a.m. CT, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued executive order 2021-25, commuting “the death sentence of Julius Darius Jones to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole, on the condition that he shall never again be eligible to apply for, be considered for, or receive any additional commutation, pardon, or parole.”
Julius Jones’ family, especially his mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, and a group of activist supporters had exerted pressure directed at the Governor for months, intensifying in recent weeks.
Gov. Stitt has reportedly been in “deep prayer” about whether to commute the sentence. Yesterday, Jones’ mother said in response to those reports, “This Governor has nothing to pray about, he has a decision to make.”
On Wednesday, the family and supporters of Julius Jones gathered at the State Capitol. His mother spoke movingly of how prison officials had not allowed her to hug her son that morning.
“Today, I had high expectations to hug my son. I saw him, but I’ve been seeing him through a glass….I don’t get to hug him,” said Davis-Jones.
Julius Jones’ sister, Antoinette Jones, also spoke to the crowd at the Capitol. She conveyed a message to the activists from her brother, “He says he thanks y’all for letting God move you to come together…He said it’s time, it is time to correct an injustice.”
On Nov. 1, the state Parole and Pardon Board recommended to the Oklahoma Governor that he commute the sentence, finding that there were serious errors in both the conviction and the sentencing. The Board had made the same recommendation in September.
After the Nov. 1 decision, Jones’ lead counsel, Amanda Bass, said: “We hope that Governor Stitt will exercise his authority to accept the Board’s recommendation and ensure that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man.”
Julius Jones Was Convicted of Murder
In 2002, Julius Jones was convicted of murdering an Edmond businessman, in July 1999. the victim, Paul Howell, gunned down outside of his parents’ home, receiving his fatal injury in front of his sisters and his two young daughters, died the next morning.
Julius Jones was 19 years old at the time, and an engineering student at the University of Oklahoma. The prosecution contended that he and a friend, Christopher Jordan, followed the Howell family home from a nearby restaurant, planning to steal their car.
Jordan, initially Jones’ co-defendant, entered into a plea agreement with the State of Oklahoma in which he accepted a 30-year sentence for murder under condition that he testify against Jones. Jordan portrayed himself as merely the getaway driver.
Jones contends, on the other hand, that Jordan perjured himself to save his own life. He, his family, and supporters believe that Jordan admitted as much to a man with whom he was imprisoned, Roderick Wesley.
Wesley wrote to Bass that in 2009 or 2010 Jordan told him “my co-defendant is on death row behind a murder I committed,” and that he has boasted about it.
Supporters and Celebrities
Julius Jones is an African-American and his case has been taken up by Black Lives Matter, and in particular by the leader of BLM in Oklahoma City, the Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson.
Family and supporters have received celebrity support, including the support of Kim Kardashian West, who has leveraged her reality-show exposure to become an important advocate of inmates’ rights.
West supports the family in their efforts to receive at least a commutation of the sentence and, ideally, a new trial. She has been an advocate of a new trial for Julius Jones since 2009.
Another celebrity supporter of Jones’ cause: Quarterback Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns.
At least five Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature have taken up the cause of commutation. Two of those five represent parts of Edmond.
In the words of one of those five, Rep. Garry Mize, “The last thing the state should be doing is taking the life of someone who may be innocent.”
Reactions to Julius Jones Getting Clemency
Jones’ attorney, Bass, called the commutation an “important step towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man.” But she acknowledged that his family and supporters had hoped for more. They had hoped for commutation with the possibility of parole.
Oklahoma’s Attorney General, John O’Connor, expressed disappointment that “the review of 13 appellate judges, the work of the investigators, prosecutors, jurors, and the trial judge has been set aside” by this decision. But he did say that he appreciates the condition “that Mr. Jones never be released from prison.”
BLM hailed the commutation as proof that organizing works, and then pivoted to the continuing fights: that “Justice for Julius” has not yet been won: that people must continue to organize for his release and for the end of the death penalty.