Right up to and including the commutation of his death sentence, the state of Oklahoma acted with deliberate malice and cruelty to Julius Jones.
Yes, his sentence was commuted, but only hours before he was scheduled to be killed by the same lethal injection method that caused John Grant to vomit and convulse violently during his execution just three weeks earlier. And his sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole, despite the state parole board recommending commutation with parole.
“Julius Darius Jones shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a written statement announcing his decision on November 18 .
So Jones’ sentence was commuted from death at the hands of state executioners to death in prison. The latter is better, of course, if only because it leaves Jones and his legions of supporters alive to fight another day.
But whether they can continue their efforts to prove his innocence remains to be seen. Gov. Stitt’s statement was unequivocal, but whether he has the authority to declare that Jones will never “be eligible to apply or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the rest of his life” isn’t at all established. And whether one governor can actually preclude his successors from granting a pardon or parole is questionable.
“We’re still evaluating the legality of the Governor’s restriction on Julius’s ability to ever seek another commutation, and are also evaluating what, if any, legal avenues may lie ahead to pursue his freedom,” Jones’ attorney, Amanda Bass, said.
Julius Jones was 19 years old and a student at the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship in 1999 when he and Christopher Jordan, a suspected gang member, were arrested for the carjacking murder of 45-year-old Paul Howell. Howell was shot in the head; his sister and two children with him weren’t injured.
After their arrest, Jordan pointed to Jones as the shooter. Jordan was sentenced to 30 years in prison and released after serving 15. Jones was sentenced to death and sent to death row in 2002.
But the evidence against Jones was problematic. The only eyewitness, the victim’s sister, testified that the shooter had on a ski cap, with about half an inch of hair sticking out the sides. Jones had extremely short hair; Jordan’s was long.
There were also questions as to whether at least one juror who sentenced Jones to death was racist. Before deliberations began in his trial, a juror reportedly said, “Well, they should just take that [n-word] out back, shoot him and bury him under the jail.” Another juror who heard the comment said she told the judge about the incident, but no action was taken.