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Oklahoma governor commutes death sentence hours before execution

Julius Jones

Handout | Oklahoma Department of Corrections | AFP

John Burger - published on 11/18/21

Gov. J. Kevin Stitt said decision came after "prayerful consideration."

Oklahoma Gov. J. Kevin Stitt today commuted the death sentence of an inmate, hours before his scheduled execution.

Julius Jones, who was scheduled to be executed today at 4 p.m. for a murder he says he did not commit, will have to serve a life imprisonment instead, without the possibility of parole.

“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Stitt said in a statement.

The commutation was greeted by Sister Helen Prejean, a longtime death penalty opponent, who at 1:23 p.m. today tweeted “BREAKING: @GovStitt grants clemency and commutes Julius Jones’s death sentence to life without parole. The execution scheduled for today is canceled.”

“While Julius Jones’s death sentence was commuted to life without parole on condition that he can never again apply for a pardon or commutation, this does not preclude Julius from pursuing legal exoneration in state or federal courts,” Prejean said in a subsequent statement. 

Bishop offers Mass for Jones

Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, attending the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, issued a statement this afternoon, saying, “It took tremendous courage in the face of intense pressure for Gov. Stitt to grant clemency in this case. I applaud his commitment to seeking justice while providing the condemned an opportunity for redemption.To oppose the death penalty is not to be soft on crime. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life.”

Earlier in the day, before the announcement of the commutation, the archbishop had tweeted: “I offered Mass this morning for Julius and Gov. Stitt. It’s in the Lord’s hands now.”

Jones, 41, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 for the 1999 car-jacking death of Paul Howell. Jones, a former high school basketball player from Oklahoma City, was 19 at the time of the killing, which he says he did not commit. 

In his order of commutation, the governor wrote: “Pursuant to Article 6, Section 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution, Governor Kevin Stitt today issued Executive Order 2021-25 to commute the death sentence of Julius Jones, who was tried and convicted for the first-degree murder of Paul Howell, 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,” the governor’s office said in a statement. 

Although Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board had recommended a commutation to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, the governor argued that the state’s constitution forbids him from granting the possibility of parole to someone who had been given a death sentence. 

“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,” said Amanda Bass, Jones’ attorney. 

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