Only hours before he was set to be executed, Julius Jones’ death sentence was commuted Thursday by Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt. Jones, who has been on death row for 20 years for a murder he alleges he was framed for, will now face life without the possibility of parole.
Compelling evidence of Jones’ innocence had gained national attention in recent days, creating a sudden pressure on the state to refrain from going through with the execution. A letter by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund described some of the doubts raised about his involvement in the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones was allegedly at home eating dinner with his family in a town 20 minutes away when the murder occurred. But Jones’ defense counsel never asked his family to testify regarding his alibi at trial. The conviction was ultimately based on a single eyewitness account. The witness’s description did not fit Jones’ appearance, but it did match the appearance of Jones’ high school friend, Christopher Jordan, who has admitted to at least four people that he was responsible for the murder.
The NAACP letter also cites “overt racism” as an underlying factor in his allegedly wrongful conviction. One of the jurors in Jones’ case “referred to Mr. Jones with [an] egregious racial epithet and proposed that he be lynched” before voting to sentence him to death.
On November 1, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that the Governor grant Jones clemency. Several walkouts in protest of the execution were held at high schools across Oklahoma. Celebrities and athletes also called on the governor to intervene.
The commutation also contained a condition preventing Jones from being considered for any further reductions in his sentence. The executive order states that Jones “shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life.” The state’s Pardons and Parole Board Commission rules also prevent incarcerated people from receiving any additional commutations on sentences for which they have already received a favorable commutation. However, he may be able to prove his innocence through exoneration proceedings in federal or state courts.