Oklahoma City defense attorney discusses Julius Jones’ legal options for obtaining freedom after Gov. Stitt commutes death sentence to life w/o parole

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After nearly two decades on death row, high-profile Oklahoma inmate Julius Jones was spared execution Thursday for the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell in 1999. Many are now wondering what the legal future looks like for Jones.

KFOR reached out to Jones’ defense team to ask what they plan to do next. They didn’t tell us, but Jones’ attorney, Amanda Bass, did express gratitude that Gov. Kevin Stitt prevented an “irreparable mistake” by granting Jones clemency.

Stitt issued an executive order Thursday commuting Jones’ sentence to life without the possibility of parole. His order also declared that Jones “shall never again be eligible to apply for, be considered for, or receive any additional commutation, pardon, or parole.”

Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Ed Blau weighed in on the governor’s executive order. He said legally, Jones’ commutation can never change.

“Now that the governor has commuted his death sentence to life without parole, there is absolutely nothing that could ever put him back on death row again,” he explained. “And because Jones has already received a commutation, he can’t request another one.”

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Julius Jones

But Blau did question the governor’s authority when it comes to future pardons.

“I think it’s an open question as to whether or not a governor can tie the hands of future governors in whether or not somebody can be given a pardon.”

Blau said Jones and his defense team may choose to apply for a pardon after Stitt is out of office. He explained that the application process for that would be lengthy. There would be a Pardon and Parole Board investigation that would result in a board recommendation. If the majority of board members vote to recommend a pardon for Jones, the governor would then have to accept the recommendation for Jones to be released from prison. But Blau wonders if Jones would even get very far in the pardon application process.

“More than likely what will happen is at some point in the future when Governor Stitt is no longer governor, Mr. Jones will apply for a pardon to the Pardon and Parole Board, and at that point, I’m sure the Attorney General’s Office will file an injunction or file a request for an injunction saying that that is barred because of Gov. Stitt’s executive order that he signed today,” he said. “At that point, it will go to the state court system and probably end up at the Oklahoma Supreme Court for them to make the decision as to whether or not that executive order can prevent future governors from granting a pardon to Mr. Jones.”

Blau won’t speculate on what would happen next.

“This is such an unprecedented situation that it’s extremely difficult to speculate as to what the Oklahoma Supreme Court would even consider doing if they were faced with this situation,” he said.

Blau concluded that a pardon by a future governor may be Jones’ only realistic hope of becoming a free man.

“If there is some new evidence that comes forward that has not been presented in court yet, that’s a possibility, but Mr. Jones’ case has been litigated for over 20 years,” he said. “There has been some new evidence presented and courts found that it was not sufficient to raise doubts about his guilt or innocence, and without getting into public perception, that’s just what the courts found. Going forward, Mr. Jones’ options are extraordinarily limited. It’s going to definitely be an uphill climb for them going forward to get him released, to get further relief.”

He said Jones’ defense team could also await the possibility that Stitt would rescind the part of his executive order that stops Mr. Jones from being considered for a pardon, but doesn’t believe it’s likely the governor will rescind that.

The family of Paul Howell 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

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