Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board votes 3-1 to commute Julius Jones’ death sentence

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to commute Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Jones was convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell and sentenced to death in 2002.

Now, over 20 years later, the pardon and parole board has rescinded Jones’ death sentence.

“I thank God that the truth came out today, in front of the world,” Antoinette Jones, sister of Julius Jones, said on Monday.

“Amazing feeling. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for and working towards,” Jimmy Lawson, Jones’ best friend, said.

“My cup is overflowing. When god blesses me, he bless me overly abundant,” Madeline Davis-Jones, Jones’ mom, said.

The decision was met with cheers outside as well. 

“I am extremely grateful, all that I have today is a relief and a sincere gratitude to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board for their decision,” advocate Rev. Cece Jones-Davis said.

“People coming together of all form of race helping someone that was wrongly convicted,” another advocate said.

Before Monday’s hearing, Jones’ supporters marched in support of not only Julius but his family. 

Well over a hundred people marched close to a mile, to wait outside of the Pardon and Parole board meeting. 

“I just believe that good things are coming,” said Jones-Davis with the Justice for Julius Campaign. “We just want this community to start a healing process, but you cannot start a healing process if we’re not telling the truth.”

The commutation recommendation now heads to Governor Stitt’s desk and Jones supporters say they will continue their fight until Julius is free. 

“It’s up to us to stand up, speak up, and demand something different than what we see and experience every day and when we see something that appears to be injustice, we have to raise our voice,” said President of the OKC NAACP Garland Pruitt. 

Jones’s supporters also had a message for Howell’s family. 

“It’s on my heart to say, I know this is a hard day for the Howell family, I know that it is. and if I could make it all right for all of us I would,” said Rev. Jones-Davis. “Our intention has never been to harm them in any way, we just don’t want an innocent man to die behind something that he didn’t do.”

Meanwhile in the meeting, the Howell family voiced their struggle.

“I’ve read the transcripts and read the evidence. I know beyond a doubt Julius Jones murdered my brother,” Megan Tobey, Paul’s sister, said. “If Jones is let out I fear what he will do to me. He is still a threat to society.”

Howell’s sister, Megan, and his daughter, Rachel, were in the car when Howell was shot and killed in the driveway of his parents’ home.

“Julius Jones shot my father – all for a car, and my life was never the same,” Rachel Howell said.

Jones’ lawyer argued there was a breakdown in the system, citing a lack of resources, inexperienced public defenders, and racial prejudice.

“We desire only justice, and justice cannot and will not be achieved by executing an innocent man. Julius Jones did not kill Paul Howell,” Amanda Bass, Jones’ lawyer, said.

To this day, Jones maintains his innocence and alleges he was framed by a former co-defendant who was a witness against him.

“Julius Jones is guilty. He does not deserve clemency or have his sentence commuted. Do not give him any opportunity to get back on the streets,” Bill Howell Jr., Paul’s brother, said. 

“Our family needs closure and we need justice. We need to stop being revictimized by Jones and his supporters,” Tobey said.

The only “no” vote came from board member Richard Smothermon.

“My vote, at least at this point, not hearing from the other parties, is probably going to be no because they have a misconduct within the last year, and so I want to be careful about precedent on any case,” he said before voting.

“We are devastated by the decision reached today by the pardon and parole board,” Said Brian Howell, Paul’s brother. “Our family continues to be victimized by Julius Jones and his lies.”

The Howell family and the state held a press conference Monday afternoon, expressing their disappointment and frustration.

“Specifically in this one, the murder of Paul Howell, it was quite obvious,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Monday afternoon after the vote. “This precious family standing behind me was revictimized, not just the day that Paul was murdered, but every single second after that.”

Part of that frustration revolves around several misconducts that Jones has received in prison since being moved on to the Stage 2 portion of the commutation process that Prater said should have disqualified Jones from having a commutation hearing.

“They were even willing to completely willing to ignore their own rules,” said Prater. “They didn’t even address it. Those are their own rules, so what is this family expecting?”

The board’s decision is a recommendation, and the governor makes the final decision. 

The governor’s office released the following statement:

“The governor takes his role in this process seriously and will carefully consider the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation as he does in all cases. We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision.”

There is no time limit on when the governor has to make a decision.

As for the Howell family, they are hoping to meet with Stitt before he makes that decision.

“We sincerely hope that Governor Stitt will review this case and treat us more fairly than the criminal justice reformers on this board,” Brian Howell said.

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