Death sentence for Julius Jones reduced to life in prison by Oklahoma governor

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has commuted the death sentence of condemned inmate Julius Jones, whose case had drawn the attention of numerous sports figures, such as NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young.

Stitt commuted Jones’ death sentence Thursday — the date of his scheduled execution — to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Jones’ case drew widespread attention after it was profiled in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. Since then, a number of sports figures with Oklahoma ties, including Westbrook, Griffin and Young, have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life.

Former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield spoke out in support of Jones on Wednesday, saying: “I have been trying to get the facts stated and the truth to be told for a while, but it is tough to think about. Tried and tried. It is a shame that it has gotten this far. We are 24 hours away. It is tough. Hopefully God can intervene and handle it correctly and do the things he needs to do.”

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr tweeted out a video Wednesday in which he said: “I wanted to put this video out, please share it. Please join in the fight to save an innocent man’s life. Do it for Julius. Do it for his family. Do it for our country. This cannot happen in a civilized nation, and we have to keep this from happening. Do everything you can.”

Jones, 41, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond, Oklahoma, businessman Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones has proclaimed his innocence from death row for more than two decades, saying he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and former co-defendant who was a key witness against him.

The state’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended in a 3-1 vote Nov. 1 that Stitt commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison, with several members of the panel agreeing they had doubts about the evidence that led to Jones’ conviction. But Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and the state’s former attorney general, Mike Hunter, have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming.

Information from trial transcripts shows that witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon wrapped in a bandanna with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his commutation filing that the gun and bandanna were planted there by the actual killer, who had been inside Jones’ house after the killing.

Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, and two young daughters were in Howell’s SUV when the carjacking happened in his parents’ driveway in Edmond. Tobey testified before the board that she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother.

“He is the same person today as he was 22 years ago. He’s still getting into trouble. He’s still in a gang. He’s still lying. And he still feels no shame, guilt or remorse for his action,” Tobey said. “We need Julius Jones to be held responsible.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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