OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Family and supporters of Julius Jones gathered in celebration after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’ death sentence to life in prison, but are disappointed he didn’t give Jones the possibility of parole – a decision some state leaders agree with, while others are just thankful he wasn’t executed.
“Julius Jones is breathing right now,” said an Oklahoma City activist with the Justice for Julius movement.
“God is the reason we get to celebrate this moment,” said Pastor Marcus Carruthers. “[Julius Jones] didn’t really know what was going to happen, but here’s what he said, ‘Tell everybody that has supported me I appreciate them and thank them.’”
“What you did is a statement to Oklahoma, of who we are, who Julius Jones is, who Mama Jones is, and that statement was heard and I applaud each and everyone of you,” said Jess Eddy, a fellow activist with the movement.
The group made time to say a prayer for Jones, all of the activists, attorneys and the Howell family.
“Last but not least, we pray for the Howell family. Lord, I pray you provide peace that can only come from your presence. I pray they will draw their strength from you as their source,” said Pastor Carruthers.
The Howell family responded to Jones’ commutation with the following statement:
“We know Governor Stitt had a difficult decision to make. We take comfort that his decision affirmed the guilt of Julius Jones and that he shall not be eligible to apply for, or be considered for, a commutation, pardon or parole for the remainder of his life. We would like to thank the countless people in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies across the state for their tireless efforts and unwavering support for the last 22 years. Julius Jones forever changed our lives and the lives of his family and friends.”THE HOWELL FAMILY
Jones’ attorney, Amanda Bass, sent KFOR the following statement:
“Governor Stitt took an important step today towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man. While we had hoped the Governor would adopt the Board’s recommendation in full by commuting Julius’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole in light of the overwhelming evidence of Julius’s innocence, we are grateful that the Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.”AMANDA BASS, ATTORNEY
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who last month announced she will run for Oklahoma Governor in 2022, agreed, but saying in the following statement that Stitt’s decision was only “half right”:
“[Governor Stitt] drew out this process until the last moment causing unnecessary grief and trauma for the Jones and Howell families. While I’m grateful the life of Julius Jones has been spared, a potentially innocent man still sits in prison. The governor should have allowed the full recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board. When there is compelling evidence casting doubt on one’s guilt, an alternative sentence should be considered. This transcends politics. [The governor’s] own appointees on the pardon and parole board have twice recommended clemency and their recommendation should be followed.”STATE SUPERINTENDENT JOY HOFMEISTER
Meanwhile, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said the following:
“The Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General respects the statutory authority of the Governor to make this decision. I know Governor Stitt is making what he believes is the right decision. I appreciate the Governor’s condition that Mr. Jones never be released from prison. However, we are greatly disappointed that after 22 years, four appeals, including the review of 13 appellate Judges, the work of the investigators, prosecutors, jurors, and the trial Judge have been set aside. A thorough review of the evidence confirms Julius Jones’ guilt in this case and that the death penalty was warranted. Our office will continue to work for justice and for the safety of all Oklahomans, including families like Paul Howell’s. We recognize that the pain of losing a loved one never ends, and our hearts and prayers are with the Howell family.”JOHN O’CONNOR, OKLAHOMA ATTORNEY GENERAL
As for Jones’ supporters, they said their fight isn’t over yet.
“I hope y’all are taking notes, because we got to get it right this time. And after we get it right, not forget,” said Madeline Davis-Jones, Jones’ mother. “So rest today and celebrate. Tomorrow is a new day.”
KFOR reached out to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater for a statement, but he told us he will not be making any statement until he speaks to the Howell family, whom he calls “courageous.”