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Oklahoma governor commutes death sentence for Julius Jones

A crowd that had gathered inside the Oklahoma Capitol to support Jones erupted into applause and cheers after the decision was announced shortly after noon Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, Jones’ attorneys filed a last-minute emergency request seeking a temporary halt to his execution, saying Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures pose a “serious and substantial risk of pain and suffering grave for prisoners “and citing the execution last month in which John Marion Grant had convulsions and vomited while being put to death.

The state Pardons and Parole Board recommended in a 3-1 vote on November 1 that Stitt commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison, with several panel members agreeing they had doubts about the evidence that led to Jones’ conviction.

Jones was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell in a carjacking.

Jones’ case gained attention after being featured in “The Last Defense,” a three-part documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. Since then, the TV star reality Kim Kardashian West and athletes with ties to Oklahoma including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life.

Jones alleges he was trapped by the actual killer, a high school friend and former co-defendant who was a key witness against him. But Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and former state attorney general Mike Hunter said the evidence against Jones was overwhelming.

Information from the trial transcripts shows witnesses identified Jones as the gunman and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon wrapped in a bandana with Jones’ DNA in an attic above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his switching file that the gun and bandana were planted there by the real killer, who was inside Jones’ house after the murder.

Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, and her two young daughters were in Howell’s SUV when the car theft occurred in her parents’ driveway on the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond. Tobey testified before the board that she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother.

“He’s the same person today as he was 22 years ago. He’s still in trouble. He’s still in a gang. He’s still lying. And he still doesn’t feel any shame, guilt or remorse for his action, ”Tobey said. “We need Julius Jones to be held accountable.”

Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions – sparked by concerns over its lethal injection methods – last month. Grant, 60, had seizures and vomited while being put to death on October 28.

Grant was the first person in Oklahoma to be executed since a series of deadly flawed injections in 2014 and 2015. Richard Glossip was only hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized that ‘they had the deadly bad drug. It was later revealed that the same wrong drug was used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

The drug mixes followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a stretcher before dying 43 minutes after his fatal injection – and after the state prison chief ordered to the executioners to stop.

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