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Oklahoma governor commutes death sentence of Julius Jones

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the death sentence of condemned inmate Julius Jones on Thursday, the day of his scheduled execution. The commutation was announced just four hours before Jones was scheduled to die of lethal injection.

Jones has proclaimed his innocence from death row for more than two decades in the 1999 killing of a suburban Oklahoma City businessman.

Stitt commuted Jones’ death sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He had been scheduled for execution on Thursday.

A large crowd of Jones supporters who had gathered inside the Oklahoma State Capitol building in Oklahoma City erupted in celebration after news of the commutation was announced.

The crowd gathered on the same floor as Stitt’s office, though it is unclear if the governor was inside at the time. 

‘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 on Thursday. 

Julius Jones (pictured) was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 of killing Edmond businessman Paul Howell, 45, during a 1999 carjacking in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond

Paul Howell was killed in the driveway of his parents’ home in Edmond

Julius Jones (pictured) was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 of killing Edmond businessman Paul Howell, 45, during a 1999 carjacking in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond

Governor Kevin Stitt (pictured above on May 17) commuted Jones' death sentence on Thursday. Jones will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole

Governor Kevin Stitt (pictured above on May 17) commuted Jones’ death sentence on Thursday. Jones will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole

Jubilant crowds celebrated the decision by Stitt to commute Jones' sentence on Thursday

Jubilant crowds celebrated the decision by Stitt to commute Jones' sentence on Thursday

Jubilant crowds who demonstrated at the Oklahoma State Capitol building just outside the office of the governor celebrated the decision by Stitt to commute Jones’ sentence on Thursday

His own lawyers accused him of lying over his alibi, a witness saw him commit the murder and DNA tied him to it: But Julius Jones claims he was framed    

Jones, 41, is scheduled to be put to death on Thursday for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell during a carjacking

Jones, 41, is scheduled to be put to death on Thursday for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell during a carjacking

ALIBI  

Jones now claims he was at home having dinner with his parents and sister at the time of the murder some 20 miles away.

His current attorneys say that at the time of his trial, his then-lawyer failed to present this into evidence.

The lawyer also failed to call Jones to the witness stand so that he could testify in his own defense. 

But prosecutors said that the alibi is a ‘blatant falsehood’ and that his family members weren’t called as witnesses because Jones told his lawyer that he was not at home at the time of the murder.

Prosecutors also said that three people saw Jones with Howell’s stolen Suburban just after the killing.

Jones’ trial attorney, David McKenzie, wrote in an affidavit that he ‘personally concluded that the alibi defense was untrue.’ 

DNA ANALYSIS 

DNA testing Investigators found the murder weapon and a bandanna with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. 

A 2018 DNA analysis of a bandanna found that a ‘partial DNA profile obtained from’ the cloth ‘is consistent with the DNA profile obtained from’ Jones.

The analysis also found that the probability that the DNA profile would match someone unrelated to Jones was 1 in 1.3 billion among white Americans; 1 in 110 million among African Americans; and 1 in 1 billion in the US Hispanic population.

Christopher Jordan, the man who was convicted as his accomplice, was ruled out as a possible DNA match.

But Jones’ attorneys contend that the test results were ‘limited’ and that the bandanna included ‘degraded DNA’ from three or more people.  

WITNESS  

Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, witnessed her brother’s murder. In court she testified that the gunman was wearing a stocking cap that came down ‘about a half an inch to an inch’ above his ears and that there was hair sticking out from both sides.

Jones’ lawyers believe that this was a more accurate description of Jordan, who at the time wore corn-row braids. They claim that the jury was never shown photographs of Jones from a week before the murder.

Those photos show Jones with short, close-cropped hair. Jones has claimed that he was framed by Jordan, who is the actual killer.

Prosecutors, however, claim that Tobey never testified that she saw braids and that her testimony referred to how much hair was visible between the top of the ear and the stocking cap, not the hair length.

They also note that a federal appeals court which considered the case ruled that ‘the length of (Jones’) hair compared to Mr. Jordan’s is not a persuasive showing of actual innocence.’ 

JAILHOUSE CONFESSION  

Jones’ lawyers claim that the jury was never told about jail inmates who say that they heard Jordan admit to killing Howell and framing Jones.

Prosecutors have long argued that those individuals were not credible due to their lengthy criminal records.

They also say that the inmates did not know any details of the murder and that their testimonies were not corroborated. 

Jordan is also alleged to have told inmates that he framed Jones in order to get a reduced sentence.

Jones’ supporters say that in exchange for Jordan’s testimony, he was given a plea deal that set him free from prison after serving 15 years for being the ‘getaway driver.’  

A RACIALLY BIASED JURY?  

One of the jurors in the Jones’ trial submitted a sworn affidavit in which they claimed another juror used the N-word while prematurely deliberating whether or not Jones was guilty.

The juror who allegedly uttered the racial slur is also said to have remarked that Jones should be taken out behind the jail and shot.

But prosecutors claim that when the trial judge spoke to the juror, who claims to have heard the slur, the day after the alleged incident, the juror never mentioned anything about racist epithets.

The judge’s bailiff signed an affidavit stating that the juror never reported this, according to prosecutors.

Supporters of Jones also pointed to the fact that there was only one black juror empaneled.  

CONTROVERSIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY

Supporters of Jones point to the track record of then-Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert ‘Cowboy Bob’ Macy. 

Clifford Henry Bowen, the first man Macy ever put on death row after convicting him of a triple murder based on the accounts of two eyewitnesses, was exonerated five years after his conviction.

During his time in office from 1980 until 2001, Macy personally oversaw the capital punishments of 54 defendants. 

Critics of Macy say that he relied on falsified evidence gathered by investigators in another case, that of Jimmie Ray Slaughter.

Slaughter was executed in 2005. Dennis Dill, a former police officer in Edmond, the same town where Jones is accused of killing Howell, said that he witnessed detectives falsify evidence in order to implicate Slaughter.

But prosecutors and supporters of the victim say that Macy wasn’t the district attorney anymore by the time Jones’ trial got underway in 2002. 

LACK OF PROPER REPRESENTATION

The public defender who represented Jones, David McKenzie, later said in an affidavit that he never tried a death penalty case before and that he was ‘terrified by this case due to my inexperience.’

He admitted that he relied on an investigator who was ‘completely untrained and unqualified to be interviewing witnesses or otherwise performing investigative functions.’

McKenzie also regretted not presenting a key piece of evidence at trial – a photograph of Jones taken the week before the murder showing Jones’ hair was cropped short.  

Tobey, Howell’s sister, testified that she witnessed her brother’s murder. 

In court she testified that the gunman was wearing a stocking cap that came down ‘about a half an inch to an inch’ above his ears and that there was hair sticking out from both sides.  

The state’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended in a 3-1 vote on November 1 that Stitt commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison, with several members of the panel agreeing they had doubts about the evidence that led to Jones’ conviction. 

Earlier on Thursday, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield became the latest celebrity to weigh in on the fate of  Jones as police set up barriers around the governor’s mansion ahead of today’s previously scheduled execution.     

Jones, 41, was set to be put to death by lethal injection at 4pm Thursday for a 1999 murder he says he did not commit.

Mayfield, a Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma, joined Jones’s family and urged Stitt to commute the man’s sentence and spare his life.  

‘We are 24 hours away. So, it’s tough, ‘Mayfield said as he whipped away tears from his eyes. 

‘You know, hopefully, God can intervene, and handle it correctly and do the things he needs to do.’ 

Last season, Mayfield had displayed Jones’s name on the back of his helmet in solidarity for the inmate.    

Jones was convicted in 2002 of the 1999 murder of businessman Paul Howell, 45, in a carjacking. He has consistently said he is innocent and was framed. 

His case became a cause celebre after it was profiled in a documentary by actress Viola Davis in 2008 and he has since garnered the support of numerous celebrities and sports stars. 

Before commuting his sentence on Thursday, Stitt has refused to meet with Jones’ mother and sister in recent days. The governor had given no indication of how or when he will decide on the clemency request.   

He has, however, met with Jones’s attorneys and Howell’s family.  

On Tuesday, Oklahoma City police officers were filmed placing water-filled orange and white barriers around the Governor’s Mansion on NE 23rd Street. 

Oklahoma City Police said in a tweet they were asked by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to erect the barriers ‘to provide a safe place for those who show up for peaceful gatherings.’ 

Madeline Davis-Jones, Jones’s mother, told reporters and protestors on Wednesday night that she did not ‘want to go to a lynching,’ as she refuses to attend her son’s scheduled execution.

Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 of killing Howell during a 1999 carjacking in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond. 

During Jones’ trial in 2002, prosecutors said that he and Christopher Jordan followed Howell around in an attempt to rob him of his 1997 GMC Suburban. 

Howell’s sister Megan Tobey said she had gone out with Paul and his two daughters to buy school supplies and stop for ice cream the night of the murder, according to a September interview with KFOR – the first sit-down interview the family has ever given.

Rachel Howell, who was nine at the time of the killing, said she remembers waving at Jones as he approached the driver’s side of the SUV and shot her dad in the head without saying a word.

‘When we pulled up in the driveway and stopped, I looked over and saw Julius Jones walking up to the car,’ Rachel Howell said.

However, Jones claims he was framed by the actual killer, Jordan, a high school friend and co-defendant who testified against Jones and was released from prison after 15 years. 

More than 6.4 million people have signed a petition on Change.org asking Stitt to reconsider, and the GOP governor’s Democratic challenger, Joy Hoffmeister, said in his place, she would grant clemency. 

Protesters have flocked to the mansion for weeks to demand Jones who has maintained his innocence – blaming Jordan – over the last two decades, be spared. 

The case received national attention after Viola Davis produced a 2018 documentary called The Last Defense, which was broadcast in 2018 on ABC. On Wednesday, Davis posted a plea on her Instagram page, asking Stitt to save Jones. 

Rallies in support of Jones were expected Wednesday in major U.S. cities, including Oklahoma City, New York, Washington and Los Angeles. 

Kardashian, who has emerged as a criminal justice reform advocate in recent years, repeatedly has called on Stitt to spare Jones’ life and has stayed in touch with the death row inmate’s family.

Jones’ sister, Antoinette Jones, told TMZ that Kardashian used her fame and massive online following to shine a spotlight on her brother’s case. 

‘She’s always been available to help and she’s mobilized so many people to come out and post on their social media,’ Antoinette told the outlet. ‘She’s a real one… she truly does care.’ 

Celebrities like Davis, Mandy Patinkin and NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, all expressed support for the Justice for Julius movement. 

Spiritual leaders from around the US have rallied to the cause, and several of them on Tuesday accompanied Antoinette Jones as she sought in vain to meet with Stitt.

The Rev. Marvin L. Morgan, of Charlottesville, Virginia, submitted a letter to the governor’s staff asking to be executed in place of Jones if the inmate is denied clemency, reported The Oklahoman.  

‘I am here in Oklahoma today because I’ve made an offer to Gov. Stitt that if another Black man is going to be killed under the guise of capital punishment, that it could be any Black man,’ Rev Morgan said. ‘So I would like the governor to allow me to lie on that table and to die in place of Julius Jones.’ 

The governor has met with the Howell family who maintains that Jones is the man responsible for the murder. 

‘We feel confident Governor Stitt sees past Jones propaganda and sees who Julius Jones really is,’ said Paul Howell’s brother Brian after Jones’ clemency hearing. ‘The facts are and always overwhelming pointed toward his guilt.’

Jones’ mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, alongside other supporters, visited the state Capitol Monday hoping to meet the governor and plead for clemency.

But Stitt’s Chief of Communications Charlie Hannema said the governor wasn’t able to meet and requested Davis-Jones, who had a handwritten letter for Stitt, fill out a form for visitors.

Hannema told the family: ‘We’ve received your letter, the governor is going to take [the letter] into consideration. We got a process, not gonna be meeting.’

A person with the Jones family then asked: ‘Are you saying that he’s refusing to meet?’

The spokesperson then left and closed the door.   

Attorneys for Jones, however, have said they met with Stitt last week. 

‘The governor takes his role in this process seriously and is carefully considering the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation as he does in all cases,’ Hannema said in an earlier statement. 

Following the governor’s refusal to meet with the family, Kardashian tweeted: ‘This is the cold machinery of the Death penalty. 

‘An innocent man could be put be put to death. My heart breaks for Julius and so many others who have suffered such tragic miscarriage of justice. 

‘We are all anxiously awaiting a decision from Governor Stitt. He can choose to accept the recommendation for a second time from the Parole Board to grant Julius clemency/life with the possibility of parole or have him executed Thursday the 18th. 

‘Julius, his family and everyone on his team are still hopeful Stitt will do the right thing.’ 

Jones’ mother, who has now received an invite to her son’s execution, said that she and her family will keep praying after Stitt refused to meet them. 

A chocked up Baker Mayfield, quarterback for the  Cleveland Browns, joined other celebrities in calling for Gov. Kevin Stitt to spare death-row inmate Julius Jones

A chocked up Baker Mayfield, quarterback for the  Cleveland Browns, joined other celebrities in calling for Gov. Kevin Stitt to spare death-row inmate Julius Jones

Jones mother, Madeline Davis-Jones spoke surrounded by friends and family members on Wednesday night about her son's fate, who they maintain his innocent of a 1999 murder

Jones mother, Madeline Davis-Jones spoke surrounded by friends and family members on Wednesday night about her son’s fate, who they maintain his innocent of a 1999 murder

Water-filled barricades are pictured around Governor's Mansion in Oklahoma City on Tuesday  - two days before the scheduled execution

Water-filled barricades are pictured around Governor’s Mansion in Oklahoma City on Tuesday  – two days before the scheduled execution

Madeline Davis-Jones had previously said she would not attend her son's execution

Madeline Davis-Jones had previously said she would not attend her son’s execution

Davis-Jones told KOCO News: ‘God brought my beautiful, wonderful son here and it’s his responsibility to take my son. And I’m believing in God and trusting in God.’ 

A family friend of Jones, Jimmy Lawson, said they are disappointed they didn’t get to meet with Stitt – but said they will come up with a Plan B. 

Lawson told Oklahoma News 4: ‘I think Mama Jones wanted an opportunity to let the governor know that her son is innocent and provide some details that he had never heard before. 

‘We’ll take this opportunity to reconvene with our team and then we’ll come up with our Plan B.’ 

State and county prosecutors have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming.   

Julius' sister, Antoinette (2nd from Right) is seen at the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday. The inmate's family and supporters tried in vain to meet with Oklahoma Gov Kevin Stitt

Julius’ sister, Antoinette (2nd from Right) is seen at the Governor’s Mansion on Tuesday. The inmate’s family and supporters tried in vain to meet with Oklahoma Gov Kevin Stitt 

Kim Kardashian has urged Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt spare the life of inmate Julius Jones who is due to be executed in three days after the governor refused to see his mother

Kim Kardashian has urged Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt spare the life of inmate Julius Jones who is due to be executed in three days after the governor refused to see his mother

Celebrities pleading for clemency for death row inmate Julius Jones

Kim Kardashian: reality star and criminal justice reform advocate, repeatedly called on Gov. Stitt to spare Jones’ life, is in touch with Jones’ family, used social media to mobilize movement supporting Jones 

Viola Davis:  actress, produced 2018 documentary on Jones case called The Last Defense, which was broadcast in 2018 on ABC

Mandy Patinkin: actor, urged social media followers to contact governor and ask that he follow the Parole Board’s recommendation 

Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young: NBA stars, urged officials to commute the sentence in lieu of execution. 

Trial transcripts show witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon and a bandana with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. 

Jones claims the murder weapon was placed there by the actual killer, who visited Jones’ house after Howell was shot.

Kardashian detailed what Jones was facing ahead of his slated execution on Thursday. 

‘I want to share with you what the process of the execution is like in Oklahoma,’ Kardashian wrote. ‘#JuliusJones has been on death watch for more than 2 weeks. In preparation for his execution on Nov. 18, he is alone in his prison cell just feet away from the executioner’s chamber.’ 

Kardashian noted how Jones ‘has been strip searched, x-rayed, and issued a new set of clothes, shoes, mattress & bedding,’ and ‘is being closely monitored by staff,’ as ‘every meal he has and every liquid he consumes is logged.’

Kardashian said that Jones has ‘designated who will receive his remains’ and his ‘personal property’ following his execution, adding that his ‘organs are not eligible for donation’ under state law. 

Kardashian said that officials in Oklahoma are ‘so bent on vengeance that they will make every effort to ensure they get to kill Julius – including reviving him if he happens to go into cardiac arrest prior to the execution.’ 

She noted that at 9 p.m. ‘the day before his execution,’ Jones’ ‘phone privileges will be terminated and he will receive his last meal. 

‘He will be checked on every 15 minutes for the last four hours of his life. Then, he will be put to death.’  

Madeline Davis-Jones (centre), mother of death row inmate Julius Jones, fills out a request for a meeting with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt with the help of Rep. Jason Lowe, left, at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City on Monday

Madeline Davis-Jones (centre), mother of death row inmate Julius Jones, fills out a request for a meeting with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt with the help of Rep. Jason Lowe, left, at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City on Monday

Homeland star Mandy Patinkin also has taken to social media, urging followers to contact the governor’s office and ask that he follow the Parole Board’s recommendation to grant Jones clemency.   

In addition to Kardashian, notable NBA players such as Russell Westbrook, Trae Young and Blake Griffin have urged officials to commute the sentence in lieu of execution.

Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions – brought on by concerns over its methods – last month. John Marion Grant, 60, convulsed and vomited as he was being put to death October 28.

It’s not clear yet why Grant vomited, but medical experts agreed that the dosage of the sedative midazolam that Oklahoma and other states use in their execution protocols is massive compared with what’s standard in surgeries.   

Stitt's Chief of Communications Charlie Hannema said the governor wasn't able to meet Jones' mother (right) and requested Davis-Jones, who had written a hand-written letter to Stitt, fill out a form for visitors

Stitt’s Chief of Communications Charlie Hannema said the governor wasn’t able to meet Jones’ mother (right) and requested Davis-Jones, who had written a hand-written letter to Stitt, fill out a form for visitors

Hannema, with his hands in his pockets, told the family: 'We've received your letter, the governor is going to take [the letter] into consideration. We got a process, not gonna be meeting.' A person with the Jones family then asked: 'Are you saying that he's refusing to meet?' The spokesperson then left and closed the door

Hannema, with his hands in his pockets, told the family: ‘We’ve received your letter, the governor is going to take [the letter] into consideration. We got a process, not gonna be meeting.’ A person with the Jones family then asked: ‘Are you saying that he’s refusing to meet?’ The spokesperson then left and closed the door

From left to right, Quinita Jones (no relation), Rep. Jason Lowe, Madeline Davis-Jones, mother of death row inmate Julius Jones, and Dionne and Rev. Marcus Carruthers wait on a bench outside of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's office, hoping for a meeting with him, at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City, on Monday

From left to right, Quinita Jones (no relation), Rep. Jason Lowe, Madeline Davis-Jones, mother of death row inmate Julius Jones, and Dionne and Rev. Marcus Carruthers wait on a bench outside of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office, hoping for a meeting with him, at the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City, on Monday

Madeline Davis-Jones (right), mother of death row inmate Julius Jones, makes her way to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's office on Monday

Madeline Davis-Jones (right), mother of death row inmate Julius Jones, makes her way to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office on Monday

Grant was the first person in Oklahoma to be executed since a series of flawed lethal injections in 2014 and 2015.

Kardashian previously worked with federal authorities on the release of Alice Marie Johnson, who was pardoned from a life sentence in 2018 stemming from a 1996 conviction on nonviolent drug charges.  

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