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Oklahoma Pardon And Parole Board Recommends Commutation For Julius Jones; Gov. Stitt Will Make Final Decision

Julius Jones in 2011.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has recommended that Governor Kevin Stitt commute the death sentence of Julius Jones.

On Monday, the five-member board voted 3-1, with one recusal, to recommend Jones' sentence be commuted to life in prison, with the possibility of parole.

Jones has maintained his innocence in the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.

Stitt, who appointed three members of the board, will ultimately decide the fate of Jones. Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said the governor will review the board's recommendation carefully.

"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,” Atchison said in a statement. “We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision."

According to the Associated Press, the last time an Oklahoma governor granted clemency to a death row inmate was Brad Henry in 2010. Former Governor Mary Fallin denied three separate recommendations by the board for clemency for death row inmates.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has objected to the potential commutation and tried unsuccessfully last week to have two members of the Pardon and Parole Board disqualified from Monday's commutation hearing.

Prater accused Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle of being biased and having a conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety. His accusations center around both members' employment with organizations that give aid to people recently released from prison or granted parole.

Luck, Doyle and Larry Morris all voted for the recommendation, while Richard Smothermon voted against the recommendation. A fifth member of the board, Scott Williams, recused himself due to a professional relationship with an attorney speaking on Jones behalf.

Prater says Jones' supporters are spreading lies and half-truths to get him out of prison. But Jones' legal team says the state’s case against Jones was always weak. They say Jones was given an inadequate defense at trial, and they've uncovered new evidence pointing to his innocence.

Their evidence includes statements from three prisoners who claim Jones’ codefendant confessed while behind bars to murdering Howell and framing Jones.

Jones' court appeals have been exhausted, and a commutation from Stitt is one of his last chances to escape death row.

His case have garnered national attention and support of criminal justice advocates and celebrities, after being featured in a 2018 ABC documentary.

The state of Oklahoma has not executed anyone since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014.

In August, Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor filed motions for execution dates for seven death row inmates, including Jones.

There is no time limit for Stitt to approve or deny the commutation recommendation.

Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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