OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt’s commutation of Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without parole was met with gratitude and relief from people across nation, among them high-profile figures who have long believed Jones is innocent.
The Oklahoma governor announced at 12:10 p.m. Thursday that he was sparing Jones’ life, just four hours before Jones was scheduled to die by lethal injection for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, an Edmond businessman who was shot to death in front of his sister and two young daughters in the driveway of his parents’ home.
Jones, who was 19 at the time of the murder, pleaded not guilty but was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002. He has since maintained that he is innocent.
His supporters erupted with elation upon the announcement that he would not be executed.
Baker Mayfield, a former University of Oklahoma star quarterback and current Cleveland Browns QB, frequently expressed his support for Jones in recent years. He shared his excitement on Twitter after Jones was commuted.
Kim Kardashian West, also a prominent Jones supporter, posted several tweets, first thanking Stitt, then discussing the phone conversation she had with Jones on Wednesday.
Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board of the Drum Major Institute, thanked Stitt.
Bernice King, the daughter of the civil rights icon and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, criticized Stitt for waiting until mere hours before the scheduled execution to commute Jones’ sentence.
Actress Yvette Nicole Brown also criticized the timing of the commutation.
Mandy Patinkin, a popular actor who spoke passionately in support of Jones in recent days, thanked his fellow supporters.
Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent anti-death penalty activist, said the quest for “Justice for Julius” continues.
Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis also called for Jones to be exonerated.
Author Ibram X. Kendi said Jones needs to be freed from prison and state-sanctioned executions abolished.
Support for Jones grew into a highly vocal national movement over the past 19 years, seeking “Justice for Julius,” decrying the failures of his defense team and continuously calling upon Oklahoma leaders to grant Jones a clemency hearing and commute his sentence.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Sept. 13 in favor of recommending commutation for Jones. However, Stitt announced two weeks later that he would not accept the Board’s recommendation for commutation, saying “a clemency hearing, not a commutation hearing, is the appropriate venue for our state to consider death row cases.”
The clemency hearing was held on Nov. 2, and the Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend clemency for Jones.