Supporters of Oklahoma death row prisoner Julius Darius Jones cheered as Gov. Kevin Stitt canceled Jones’ execution just four hours before it was due at the state prison in McAlester Nov. 18. Stitt commuted Jones’ death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
On Nov. 1 the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend clemency and a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
Support for a new trial for Jones has been won from celebrities Kim Kardashian West and John Legend as well as athletes, including NFL players Baker Mayfield and Dak Prescott, and NBA players Steph Curry, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook.
“Maybe we can get him a fair trial and bring all the evidence,” said Dallas Cowboys quarterback Prescott after Jones’ sentence was commuted.
“I still believe that every day Julius spends behind bars is an injustice, and I will never stop speaking out for him or fighting to free him,” Madeline Davis-Jones, his mother, said in a statement.
Davis-Jones joined some 300 demonstrators outside the governor’s office Nov. 17 after Stitt declined to meet with her. Some 1,800 students at 13 Oklahoma City high schools walked out of their classes to protest the planned execution the same day. Dozens of students protested at the University of Oklahoma the previous week.
Jones, a 41-year-old African American, was sentenced to death in 2002 after being convicted of killing businessman Paul Howell during a carjacking three years earlier in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond. He has always maintained his innocence.
The state of Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions last month. After being lethally injected John Marion Grant repeatedly convulsed and vomited Oct. 28. It took 15 minutes for Grant to be declared unconscious.
Like the rest of the criminal “justice” system, the death penalty is a weapon used to terrorize and intimidate working people and enforce the domination of the ruling capitalist class.
Support grows for new trial
Jones’ trial was a travesty of justice. His parents both say he was at home with the family at the time Howell was shot, but their testimony was never brought to the jury during the trial. The gun used to kill Howell was not tested at the time of the crime for DNA. When Jones’ defense attorneys were called to state their case, they presented no witnesses. Since then he has obtained new lawyers.
Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, an eyewitness to the killing, could not see the face of the shooter, which was covered with a stocking cap, but she identified Jones as the killer.
Connie Ellison, Howell’s girlfriend, spoke in support of Jones at the recent parole board hearing. “Even though I know I would lose my treasured friendship with … the Howell family, I had to speak my truth today,” she said. “There are too many questions and too much doubt about Julius’ guilt to allow the state of Oklahoma to execute him.”