Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt spared the life of death-row inmate Julius Jones on Thursday just hours before he was scheduled for lethal injection. After “prayerful consideration,” Stitt reduced the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 41-year-old who maintains his innocence.
The last-minute reversal was influenced by a broad coalition of advocates arguing for Jones to be taken off death row, which included American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp; NBA players Russell Westbrook and Trae Young; and Kim Kardashian West. His case was brought to national attention after it was included in the 2018 documentary series The Last Defense produced by Viola Davis.
In 1999, Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in the car-jacking and fatal shooting of businessman Paul Howell. Jones, who is Black, was 19 at the time of the shooting; Howell, who was white, was 45. His advocates have argued that his defense did not properly represent him, including a failure to question his family members who said Jones was eating dinner with them at the time of the shooting. Earlier this month, Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his sentence be commuted to life with the possibility of parole on a 3-1 vote.
The commutation comes following the first execution in Oklahoma since the state botched several lethal injections in 2015, when prison officials used or nearly used the wrong drug on death-row inmates. Last month, the state executed 60-year-old John Marion Grant, who convulsed and vomited after a sedative was administered to him.
On Thursday, Jones’s mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, was relieved by the eleventh-hour stay. “For over 20 years, I have been haunted by the idea of watching my baby boy die in an execution chamber for a murder that occurred when he was home with his family,” she said in a statement. “I still believe that every day Julius spends behind bars is an injustice, and I will never stop speaking out for him or fighting to free him. But today is a good day, and I am thankful to Governor Stitt for that.”