Julius Jones

Patrick England, Staff Reporter

Julius Jones was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Nov. 18 for the 1999 murder of Oklahoma City businessman Paul Howell. Jones gave his request for his final meal and was just 12 hours away from his death sentence. For his final meal he requested two KFC sandwiches with lettuce, tomato and mayo, one large McDonald’s fries with salt and ketchup, a meat-lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut, and a bottle of water.

A couple of hours after his final meal, all of his phone and visitation rights were suspended.  As the 12-hour countdown to his scheduled lethal injection began, Jones went through the state’s protocol for a death sentence. This included a strip-search before being placed in a cell feet away from the execution chamber and check-ups every 15 minutes.

Just four hours before he was set to be executed, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) changed Jones’ death sentence to a life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The governor said in a statement that this decision came “after prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case.”

This decision brought joy to many people considering the questionable circumstances of the case and the high-profile support that Jones has got. Jones’s advocates range from Hollywood stars and NBA athletes to university students and community preachers, the attention behind his case shows more than the power of social media to influence change but, it has put a focus on the well-known problems within death penalty cases, experts said, at a time when the majority of Americans are against the policy.

Jones, who was arrested at 19, has claimed his innocence since the time of the arrest. His attorneys have said that they believe Jones was framed by one of his former friends, these claims were featured in the 2018 ABC documentary “The Last Defense” produced by actress Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon. “We are soooo happy for Julius and his family,” Tennon said in a written message to The Washington Post. “Praise God!!!”

After being told of the news, Jimmy Lawson, Jones’ best friend since childhood, told the Washington Post, “If you could see a boulder lift off someone’s shoulder, that’s what it looked like for Mama Jones, we saved a man’s life today.”

While many people are thrilled about the decision to remove the death penalty from Jones’ case, they also believe that it was cruel and unusual to wait until the last minute to grant him clemency. The Rev. Don Heath of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said of the situation “It is definitely a mixed blessing, we are thankful that Julius’ life was spaced. We grieve that he will have to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. That is also cruel and unusual.”

The executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Robert Dunham, said that while this decision has come under scrutiny, it is not unusual for governors to take this much time to commute sentences or grant clemency. “The more difficult the decision is or the more painful the decision is for the person to make, the more likely it is to be made at the last minute,” he said. “None of this is emotionally good for anyone, and it is especially emotionally difficult for the families of the victims and the families of the defendant.”

Family members of the victim, Paul Howell, including his sister who witnessed the murder, have spoke out at hearings about the pain that was caused by his murder and their confidence that Jones is guilty.