Family, supporters of Julius Jones turn to faith, hold out hope that clemency with be granted
With nearly 24 hours left before the scheduled execution of Julius Jones, his supporters are rallying at the Oklahoma state Capitol and across Oklahoma City to voice their support for clemency.
Jones' execution is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, despite widespread and bipartisan concerns about his case.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended commutation, and then clemency, for Jones, but the decision lies ultimately with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has not announced his decision as of Wednesday afternoon. Two of the three votes to recommend clemency for Jones came from board members appointed by Stitt.
UPDATED: November 17, 2021 at 10:48 p.m. CST
As the sun set on what could be Jones’ last full day on Wednesday, neither he nor his family had any hint whether the governor would spare his life.
"Like I said, I don’t feel like nobody. I don't even feel like a number. My son is, right now, a number," said Madeline Davis-Jones, the mother of Julius.
She and other supporters have been holding vigils for weeks, praying that Stitt would follow the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board's recommendation for clemency. Supporters accused Stitt of cruelty for keeping Jones and the family in the dark through the final hours.
They took to a lectern at the Oklahoma state Capitol at 4 p.m. Wednesday, 24 hours before the scheduled execution, after a short visit to the McAlester prison where Oklahoma's death row unit is housed.
Jones' spiritual adviser, Rev. Keith Jossell, noted that Jones and his mother hadn't been allowed in the same room for more than two decades.
"They still have to watch him behind a wall and can’t even touch their loved one. Something is wrong, Oklahoma, with the Department of Corrections," said Jossell.
In the days leading up to Jones' scheduled execution, his family and supporters have been peaceful among the most dire of circumstances. Group prayer, moments of silence and the singing of hymns have become commonplace.
Throughout the demonstrations, there have been group prayers and messages focused on faith. The crowd is singing praise and worship. pic.twitter.com/LM0Ghzou78— StateImpact Oklahoma (@StateImpactOK) November 17, 2021
Late Wednesday, Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Derrick Scobey led dozens in a self-described act of civil disobedience by standing in the middle of NE 23rd Street, between a vigil and the governor's mansion. They held their hands up and chanted, "Free Julius Jones!"
After officers asked him and others to clear the street several times, Scobey was arrested. He then pleaded with the rest of the demonstrators to clear the street and go behind the barricades, which they did.
During the more tense moments of the night, vigil leaders chanted, "We will not disrespect Mama Jones. We will not disrespect Antoinette," referring to Julius' mother and sister.
Many in the crowd soon dispersed, with plans to meet again early Thursday morning.
Here's why the fate of Julius Jones is up to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt
UPDATED: November 17, 2021 at 6:40 p.m. CST
Many people may be familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court weighing in on an execution hours before it is scheduled. But 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 getback 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."
The Takeaway talks with member of Jones' legal delegation
UPDATED: November 17, 2021 at 6:08 p.m. CST
On Wednesday, The Takeaway spoke with Oklahoma-based attorney Kelli Masters, who was part of Jones' legal delegation during his September commutation hearing.
Masters was initially skeptical about Jones’s innocence, but after reviewing the evidence, was convinced that Jones was wrongfully convicted.
Takeaway host Melissa Harris-Perry also shared her thoughts on Jones' case and his pending execution.
"I am not sure that Julius Jones is innocent," said Harris-Perry. "But far more important, the state of Oklahoma is not certain that Julius Jones is guilty."
Citing execution flaws, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommends clemency for Bigler Stouffer
UPDATED: November 17, 2021 at 5:58 p.m. CST
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board gathered Wednesday as three of its five members recommended clemency for another death row inmate, Bigler Jobe Stouffer II. The board's clemency recommendation is for life without the possibility of parole.
While the board raised concerns about Jones' innocence, that wasn’t the case for Stouffer, who was convicted in the 1985 shooting death of Putnam City elementary school teacher Linda Reaves.
All five board members said they think Stouffer is guilty, but the ones who voted for clemency said they have serious issues with what has been happening with Oklahoma's executions.
"The last four [executions] if you go back six or seven years now, well that process is obviously flawed. We've had individuals on the table suffering for 20 and 30 minutes," said board member Larry Morris. "I don't think that any humane society ought to be executing people that way, until we figure out how to do it right."
Security increases at capitol, governor's mansion
UPDATED: November 17, 2021 at 4:18 p.m. CST
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is increasing security this week at the governor's mansion and state capitol ahead of Stitt's decision on whether to grant clemency to Jones.
This comes after supporters of Jones have taken part in peaceful demonstrations at both locations. Barriers have been placed along NE 23rd Street, adjacent to the governor's mansion. Stitt and his family do not reside in the governor's mansion, rather a private residence in Edmond.
According to a press release, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol is prepared to act if gatherings or protests turn violent.
In an email sent to staff and members, offices at the Oklahoma House of Representatives will close Thursday at noon, and all non-essential employees may leave at that time. No reason was given for the early closure while lawmakers hold a special session on redistricting.
Jones’ execution is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Jones. It is now up to Stitt to make the final decision.
Hundreds of Oklahoma City students walk out of classrooms
ORIGINAL POST: November 17, 2021 at 2:59 p.m. CST
On Wednesday, across Oklahoma City, hundreds of high school students walked out of their classrooms and gathered to call for clemency for Jones.
Student activists from across the city rallied on their schools’ property or marched to the state capitol. Reported walkouts include those are John Marshall, Classen SAS, Putnam City West, Putnam City North, Star Spencer and Harding Charter Preparatory High School.
Oklahoma City Public Schools expressed support to the students for voicing their opinions in a statement to reporters.
"OKCPS supports our students' rights to peaceful assembly and their freedom of expression," the statement read. "We have worked closely with students and student groups who wished to assemble today so we could provide them with a safe space to express themselves regarding an issue they are passionate about."
Jones was an honor student and two-sport athlete at John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City. He graduated from the school in 1998. A year later, he was arrested and charged with murder in the carjacking and shooting death of Paul Howell.
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.