Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt granted Julius Jones clemency ahead of his scheduled execution Thursday, commuting his sentence to life without parole following public outcry based on doubts over whether he committed the 1999 murder for which he was convicted. The last-minute executive order by Gov. Stitt came mere hours before Jones was scheduled to be executed, and follows public outcry among advocacy groups, on social media, and from celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, a prominent criminal justice advocate who called Jones’ case a “tragic miscarriage of justice.” Several other celebrities joined in calls for his clemency, including NBA players Blake Griffin, Trae Young and Russell Westbrook, and rappers Common and J Cole. Criminal justice advocacy groups have criticized the court’s handling of the case, claiming jurors had shown signs of racial bias and that prosecutors had withheld crucial evidence.
Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended Jones’ sentence be commuted in September, and again voted for clemency earlier this month, voicing doubts about his guilt in the crime. Governor Stitt said in a statement he commuted Jones’ sentence “after prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case.” As a condition of granting clemency, Stitt ordered that Jones will never be eligible to apply or be considered for parole, pardon or commutation for the rest of his life. Jones’ attorney, Amanda Bass, said in a statement his legal team had hoped Stitt would adopt the board’s full recommendation to grant him the possibility of parole, but she added they are grateful “the governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.”
Jones has maintained his innocence for decades. He was sentenced to death in 2002 after he was found guilty of killing Paul Howell in a suburb of Oklahoma City. Criminal justice advocates have criticized Jones’ legal team for failing to present his alibi during the trial, and have argued that racial discrimination played a role in his conviction.