Jones pleaded his case to the board less than three weeks before he’s set to be executed. The board voted 3-1 on Monday to recommend commuting Jones’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole, according to the release from the inmate’s attorneys.
“My son Julius has been on death row for over twenty years for a murder he did not commit, and every day of that has been a waking nightmare for my family,” said Madeline Davis-Jones, in a statement through their attorney.
“I am grateful to the Pardon and Parole Board for again showing they are willing to listen to facts and reason, show compassion, and do what is in their power to right this terrible wrong. Now, I am asking Gov. Stitt to do the same by accepting their recommendation.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt gets the final say on Jones’ fate. His office said he is aware of the board’s action and there will be no further comment until his decision.
Jones, who is Black, is scheduled to be executed November 18 for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, whose sister and two young daughters were present when he was shot in the driveway of his parents’ home. But Jones, his attorneys and advocates – among them high-profile celebrities like Kim Kardashian West – insist he is innocent.
For nearly two decades, Jones has been on death row for a crime he did not commit, his clemency petition says, because of “fundamental breakdowns in the system tasked with deciding” his guilt, including ineffective and inexperienced defense attorneys, racial bias among his jury and alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
The same parole board recommended commuting Jones’ sentence in September.
“The Pardon and Parole Board has now twice voted in favor of commuting Julius Jones’s death sentence, acknowledging the grievous errors that led to his conviction and death sentence. We hope that Governor Stitt will exercise his authority to accept the Board’s recommendation and ensure that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man,” said Amanda Bass, lead counsel for Jones.
But Howell’s family and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office have rejected Jones’ innocence claims and believe he’s guilty. In a previous statement to CNN, daughter Rachel Howell called the narrative about Jones’ case “completely false” and evidence shows he is guilty.
CNN has reached out to Howell for reaction to the board’s recommendation.
Millions have voiced support for Jones
Jones’ case has attracted widespread attention in recent years, in part due to the ABC documentary series “The Last Defense,” which spotlighted his case in 2018. The support goes beyond his family and celebrities: More than 6.4 million people have signed a Change.org petition asking Stitt, a Republican, to prevent his execution.
“It means the world to me,” Jones’ younger sister, Antoinette Jones, told CNN in an interview. “It means that we’re not alone anymore. It means that we can kind of breathe a little bit easier, knowing that other people are willing to fight alongside us.
“I appreciate that we have the help now,” she said, “because we didn’t have that 22 years ago.”
That was echoed by Cece Jones-Davis, the director of the Justice for Julius campaign, which aims to raise awareness of Jones’ case and lobby for clemency. Before “The Last Defense,” she said there weren’t many people aware of Jones’ case. But she believes the broad support today has made a difference.
“I don’t know where we would be,” she said. “I think it has meant the absolute world, that people have come together and that that numbers of supporters are fighting for Julius.”
Jones’ supporters are hopeful. Monday’s hearing took place before the same parole board that recommended in September Jones’ sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole. But a week later, an execution date was set by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, prompting the clemency hearing.
Ultimately, the decision for clemency lies with the governor, who said in a letter to the parole board last month he would not make a decision based on their recommendation Jones’ sentence be commuted, saying instead a clemency hearing would be the “appropriate venue” for his case to be considered.
“I am not accepting the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation to commute the sentence of Julius Jones,” Stitt wrote, “because a clemency hearing, not a commutation hearing, is the appropriate venue for our state to consider death row cases.”
Support for Jones is ‘extremely tough’ on victim’s family, daughter says
The groundswell of sympathy for Jones, however, has been painful for Howell’s family, which – along with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office – have pointed out Jones’ sentence has been repeatedly upheld on appeal. Both have rejected the evidence put forth by Jones and his attorneys, with the previous attorney general referring to it as “misinformation.”
In a statement to CNN, Rachel Howell said Jones, his family and defense team “want people to believe that Julius Jones is completely innocent, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against him.”
“Overall, this has been extremely tough on our family,” she said, “as we have continued to be re-victimized by Julius Jones when we have done absolutely nothing wrong.”
Davis-Jones said Monday she will keep the Howell family in her prayers.
“I know what it is like to have a loved one ripped away from you and to constantly relive that loss. I hope and pray they find healing an