Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without parole on Thursday — four hours before the convicted killer’s scheduled execution.
A statement from the governor’s office stated that Stitt granted clemency for Jones, 41, “on the condition that he shall never again be eligible to apply for, be considered for, or receive any additional commutation, pardon, or parole.”
Earlier this month, the Pardons and Parole Board voted 3-1 in favor of commuting Jones’ death sentence to life with the possibility of parole — which would have made him immediately eligible for parole for his murder conviction, according to The Oklahoman.
The panel voted has twice to commute Jones’ sentence. Despite this, the decision as to whether Jones lived or died solely rested with Governor Stitt.
Jones was sentenced to death in 2002 for fatally shooting Paul Howell, 45, during a carjacking in 1999. Jones has maintained his innocence, recently saying via videoconference, “I am not the person responsible for taking Mr. Howell’s life.”
Howell was with his adult sister and his daughters when the deadly carjacking occurred in his parents’ driveway. Howell’s sister said she was telling her nieces to get out of the car when she heard a gunshot. The gunman fired another shot as Howell’s sister and daughters ran into the house. Howell died the following day.
Howell’s sister claimed she saw a Black man with a bandana over his face fleeing the scene. Jones, then 19, was arrested three days later. A red bandana and the murder weapon were found in his family’s home.
Jones’ family has claimed the teen was at home at the time of the deadly shooting. Further, witnesses reportedly said that co-conspirator Christopher Jordan told at least three people about framing Jones for Howell’s slaying. Jordan received a 30-year sentence after testifying against Jones and pleading guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a robbery.
Prior to Thursday’s ruling, Jones had spent half of his life on death row.
“Justice for Paul Howell,” a Facebook page dedicated to the slain father, said on Thursday, “We know Governor Stitt had a difficult decision to make. We take comfort that his decision affirmed the guilt of Julius Jones and that he shall not be eligible to apply for, or be considered for, a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life.”
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[Featured image: Paul Howell/Facebook; Julius Jones/Oklahoma Department of Corrections]