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Here’s why the fate of Julius Jones is up to Governor Kevin Stitt

FILE - Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference Feb. 11, 2021, in Oklahoma City.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
FILE - Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference Feb. 11, 2021, in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma’s Governor is the person who must choose whether a man at the center of a national controversy around the death penalty will live or die on Thursday afternoon.

Julius Jones
Julius Jones

Julius Jones, 41, is sentenced to die for the 1999 shooting of businessman Paul Howell in Edmond. Attorneys, community members and celebrities have raised doubts of his guilt.

Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board has voted twice 3-1 to shift Julius Jones to a less severe sentence — life in prison with the possibility of parole. The board said they had doubts about evidence that led to Jones’ conviction.

The governor appoints three members of that board, the court of criminal appeals has one appointment and the fifth is appointed by the Supreme Court.

Out of legal options

Many people may be used to the U.S. Supreme Court weighing in on an execution hours before it is scheduled. That won’t happen here because Jones has already exhausted all of his appeals.

Jones has used up all of his legal options, said Vanessa Potkin, the director of special litigation at the Innocence Project who has advised on the case.

“Once your legal claims are exhausted, it's extraordinarily difficult to get back into court,” Potkin said. “There has to be a legal basis. And so clemency … exists for people like Julius who … have gone through the legal process, and yet still have a claim of innocence or another reason to you know, prevent an execution.”

His attorneys tried another legal tactic. His attorneys tried to get a preliminary injunction that would block the state from executions until after a ruling on a challenge to lethal injection scheduled to happen next year, according to reporting by the Oklahoman. Jones lost that case in federal appeals court because he didn’t specify what other method of execution he preferred in the event that the court ruled against lethal injection.

If Stitt were to grant Jones clemency, he has a few options according to Kelli Masters, who was part of Jones’ legal delegation. The governor could go with the board’s recommendation and commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison with or without parole or commute the sentence to life in prison with release for time served. He could also delay the execution to allow more time to make the decision, or allow the execution to proceed as planned.

“I wish I could say what the governor is thinking in this case,” Masters said in an interview for the Takeaway.“It boggles my mind that after the two strong recommendations and all of the hearings that have been held, that he would actually go against that and allow the execution to proceed with such doubt remaining in this case. I wish I knew. I really truly wish I knew what the governor was thinking in potentially rejecting this recommendation.”

Stitt met with the family of Paul Howell, the man who died in the shooting at the center of the case. The family testified before the Pardon and Parole Board that they are convinced of Jones’ guilt. They told the board that their family is being revictimized by the publicity being brought to the case by celebrities including Kim Kardashian West.

The family and supporters of Jones have been holding vigil at the Oklahoma Capitol asking for a meeting with Stitt. So far, he has declined the meeting. However, his office told Oklahoma City television station KOCO that his office has fielded 10,000 calls about the case since Monday.

Jones is scheduled for execution on Thursday. It’s one of seven executions scheduled following a pause in 2015 after twobotched executions.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Seth Bodine joined KOSU in June 2020, focusing on agriculture and rural issues.
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