The Oklahoma Pardons and Parole Board on Monday recommended a 3-1 stop to the upcoming execution of death row inmate Julius Jones. The vote comes just weeks before he was killed by lethal injection as the state restarts its controversial execution program.
“Usually at a parole hearing, we are responsible for giving inmates choices about their future,” Board member Larry Morris said as the panel announced its recommendation, which will come back. now to the Governor of Oklahoma for a final decision.
“In this particular case it has been stepped up a notch,” he added, saying their vote decides “whether or not this young man has a future.”
The leading inmate, who is due to be executed on November 18, should instead be sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for his conviction in the murder of businessman Paul Howell in 1999 in the suburb of Oklahoma City, the board of directors concluded.
The decision marks the biggest moment yet for the growing Justice for Julius movement, which seeks to free Jones from death row, after the man has spent two decades proclaiming his innocence. The campaign, once the quiet preoccupation of a handful of family members and local activists, has now drawn significant audiences across the country, including celebrities like Kim Kardashian and viewers of a 2018 ABC documentary. widely seen called The last defense, produced by actress Viola Davis.
The parole board decision comes just days after Oklahoma was allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court to resume executions after six years, despite an ongoing appeal from inmates, including Jones, who argues that the state still uses the same unconstitutionally cruel execution protocol responsible for several botched killings in 2014 and 2015.
Jones has maintained for years that he did not assassinate Mr. Howell, while the Howell family and state law enforcement officials insist that the police and a succession of courts of first court and appeal correctly determined that Jones committed the crime.
Julius Jones’ case has been discussed in numerous forums involving 13 different judges and in state, federal and US Supreme Court proceedings. What set Monday’s audience apart was who got to tell their side of the story.
The Howell family, until a few months ago, had largely stayed away from the public since the murder of Paul Howell, and Jones does not have his already told his side of the story in person in a legal forum before state officials, after his public defense team advised him not to testify in his first trial.
Jones, appearing at the video hearing in a prison uniform, described how he started stealing things like electronics as a teenager to afford the luxuries his lower-middle-class family did not have. never had, but said those mistakes and the rude crowd he eventually fell with, don’t make him a murderer.
“I have experienced deep sadness, even despair, over the death of Mr Howell, and I risk being executed for something I did not do,” he told the small audience present during the hearing, which included his mother and sister, as well as a host of journalists. “I really wish Mr. Howell was alive today. I wish I could go back in time. I wish I had made better decisions in my youth. I can’t do none of that. What I can do, it’s trying to make the world a better place.
The Howells, meanwhile, said they were sure Jones pulled the trigger on July 28, killing Paul Howell in front of his young children in a car theft.
“He still feels no shame, guilt or remorse for his actions,” Megan Tobey, Paul Howell’s sister, said in the courtroom Monday, likening Jones to a sociopath. “It’s hurtful and we are continually revictimized. We need this to end for our family. We need Julius Jones to be held accountable.
Ms Tobey also rebuffed an argument made in a number of forums by Jones’ defense team: that jurors had not seen contemporary photos of Jones and Chris Jordan, her co-accused in the carjacking murder , which would have helped establish that Tobey saw approaching the driver’s side door with a raised pistol. At the time, Jordan had cornrows sticking out of his head, while Jones had his hair cropped low.
“What I realized was that there was no way the cornrows were under the tight black beanie the murderer was wearing, otherwise I would have noticed,” she added. .
Morris pointed out that Jones’ co-accused in the murder case, Chris Jordan, had only served 15 years in prison, which the board member called the ‘inherently false’ aspect of the case. that put Julius Jones on death row.
Kelly Doyle, another board member, said she agreed, with questionable aspects of the case suggesting that “the ultimate punishment should not be used” against Julius Jones.
Outside the offices of the Pardons and Parole Board, Jones supporters dressed in “Justice for Julius” t-shirts and face masks embraced in celebration.
“The Pardons and Parole Board has now voted twice in favor of the commutation of the death sentence of Julius Jones, acknowledging the serious errors which led to his conviction and death sentence,” said the Jones’ public defender Amanda Bass in a statement following the ruling. “We hope that Governor Stitt will exercise his authority to accept the recommendation of the board of directors and ensure that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man.”
Julius’ mother Madeline Davis-Jones said she was grateful for the board’s decision but more work needed to be done to get her son off death row.
“I feel good, but we still have some steps to take,” she told reporters outside the courtroom. “I just thank God and I thank the people of Oklahoma. I thank God and I bless the Parole Board and God. I feel good, good everywhere.
The decision is not exactly a surprise. The Council recommended that Jones’ sentence be commuted in September, the first time it had done so for a death row inmate in the state’s history.
What is different now are the stakes. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who supports capital punishment as a whole, said he wanted to wait for the fuller pardon hearing to make a final decision on Jones’ execution. Other state officials, such as the Oklahoma Attorney General and the Oklahoma County District Attorney, seat of Oklahoma City, have both lobbied for Jones’ execution.
The independent has contacted the governor’s office, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, and the Oklahoma City district attorney’s office for comment.