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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without parole as Jones’ execution for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell came within hours of being carried out.

“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” said Gov. Stitt.

Pursuant to that provision, the Governor has ordered that Jones shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life.

Current Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor sent the following statement:

“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.”

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor

Oklahoma County DA David Prater said the following:

“Out of respect for Paul Howell and his family, I will not be making any statement until I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with this courageous family.”

David Prater

Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, released the following statement:

“I thank Governor Stitt for issuing an executive order to commute the sentence of Julius Jones. This was a very difficult process. I am grateful the governor gave consideration to the facts of the case and made this decision.”

Sen. Kay Floyd

Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, released a statement Friday following the announcement of Jones’ commutation.

“It is with great sadness and grief that I reflect on the events of yesterday. Justice was not carried out. There was overwhelming evidence of the guilt of Julius Jones in the horrific murder of Paul Howell. The proper response would have been the carrying out of the death penalty.

The Howell family deserved proper justice and they didn’t get it. My heart grieves for them.

This is probably the end of the death penalty in the state of Oklahoma. Many people may rejoice at this. I do not. The law abiding people of the state of Oklahoma will eventually pay the price for this.

The death penalty serves the interests of justice, order and peace in our society.”

Rep. Jim Olsen

The archbishop of Oklahoma City also released a statement Thursday following the announcement:

“It took tremendous courage in the face of intense pressure for Gov. Stitt to grant clemency in this case. I applaud his commitment to seeking justice while providing the condemned an opportunity for redemption. To oppose the death penalty is not to be soft on crime. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life.”

Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City

In response to Governor Stitt commuting the death sentence of Julius Jones, the ACLU of Oklahoma issued the following response: 

“The death penalty is an intolerable denial of civil liberties and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system. We join our partners, local organizers, and especially the Jones’ family in a collective sigh of relief that Julius will have an opportunity to live, after decades of waiting to die. We also recognize Oklahoma is set to kill five more people over the next four months and call on Governor Sitt to reimpose a moratorium on executions immediately and indefinitely. Oklahoma must end the death penalty now.” 

Tamya Cox-Touré, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director

Jones was convicted of murdering Howell, an Edmond businessman who was shot to death in the driveway of his parents’ Edmond home in July 1999.

Jones and his family have remained adamant that he did not murder Paul Howell.