(CNN) — The governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, granted a clemency to Julius Jones, the prisoner sentenced to death who was to be executed this Thursday.
Stitt commuted Jones’s sentence to life in prison without parole, according to a decree released Thursday on the state secretary of state’s website.
Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years in connection with the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones says he is innocent, as are his family, lawyers and supporters. Howell’s family, however, remains convinced of Jones’ guilt.
“Governor Stitt took an important step today in restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man,” Jones’s attorney, Amanda Bass, said in a statement. The Governor will adopt the Board’s recommendation in its entirety by commuting Julius’s sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole, in light of the overwhelming evidence of Julius’s innocence, we are grateful that the Governor has avoided a mistake irreparable”.
Who is Julius Jones and why are so many people following his case?
Jones, who is black, was sentenced to death after being convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell during a carjacking. But Jones insists he is innocent, and he, his attorneys and advocates have raised a number of issues with his case.
According to his clemency petition, Jones and his attorneys say he has spent nearly two decades on death row for a crime he did not commit due to “fundamental flaws in the system charged with deciding” his guilt, including ineffective and inexperienced defense attorneys. , racial prejudice between his jury and the alleged misconduct of the prosecution.
Julius Jones’s case gained renewed attention in 2018, when the ABC documentary series “The Last Defense” highlighted his case. Today, it counts celebrities such as reality TV star Kim Kardashian among its followers, and more than 6 million people had signed a petition in Change.org asking Stitt to avoid execution due to the questions surrounding his case.
His petition for clemency pointed to several problems with his case
Howell was killed in a carjacking on the night of July 28, 1999, when he, his adult sister and their daughters parked in their parents’ driveway, according to court documents. Howell’s sister, the documents say, described the attacker as a black man who she said was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt, a black cap and a red scarf over his face.
Jones, 19 at the time, was arrested a few days later after authorities found the murder weapon wrapped in a red scarf inside his family’s home. Jones was tried along with a co-defendant who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, according to online court records. The co-defendant testified against Jones, who was convicted and sentenced to death.
Julius Jones ‘clemency petition raised several points of contention in his case, one of them being his alibi: Jones’ family say he was home with them the night of the murder, according to the clemency petition. The jury was also not shown a photo of Jones, taken days before Howell’s murder, which the petition would have shown did not match the shooter’s description.
The red headscarf is another sticking point: Jones’s clemency petition cites several people who said his co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, admitted to killing Howell and hiding the gun and the handkerchief inside Jones’s home. (An attorney for Jordan told ABC News in September that his client denies having confessed to the crime.)
Victim’s family still believe Julius Jones is guilty
However, Howell’s family reject Jones’ claims of innocence, and public support for Jones is painful for them, their daughter told CNN in a statement. Howell’s family and the state Attorney General’s Office have disputed the evidence cited by Jones and his supporters.
The alibi was thoroughly investigated and found not credible, the attorney general’s office previously said, adding that the claim was explored at an evidentiary hearing ordered by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Attorney General’s office also pointed to DNA tests carried out at the request of the defense on the red handkerchief. The results, the office said in a document published in July 2020, indicated that the main component of the DNA profile matched Jones and excluded Jordan. Julius Jones’ team said in response that DNA test results were limited and Jordan’s DNA could not be excluded.
“Overall, this has been extremely hard on our family,” said Rachel Howell, “as we continue to be the victims of Julius Jones when we have done absolutely nothing wrong.”
The past two decades have also been difficult for Jones’ family, his mother said, calling them a “waking nightmare.”
“I know what it is like to have a loved one taken away from you and constantly relive that loss. I hope and pray that they find healing and peace,” said Madeline Davis-Jones.
With input from Dakin Andone, Amir Vera, Justin Lear, Ashley Killough, and Carma Hassan
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism