Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones could have his sentence commuted. The state’s pardon and parole board voted Monday (Sept. 13) to recommend Jones’ death sentence be changed to life with the possibility of parole. The board voted 3-1 in Jones’ favor.
Jones, 41, faces execution for the 1999 carjacking and shooting of Paul Howell, an insurance executive who had returned from an ice cream run with his sister and his young daughters and had pulled into his parents’ driveway. The shooter managed to drive over Howell after shooting him in front of his family.
Jone was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma at the time. He and his legal team have argued that Jones’ high school acquaintance, Christopher Jordan, was responsible for the crime. They say the following evening, when Jordan stayed the night at Jones’ house, he planted the murder weapon and a red bandana witnesses said the murderer was wearing in Jones’ bedroom crawl space. Local publication The City Sentinel reports that the DNA on the bandana, according to Jones’ attorneys, didn’t match that of their client.
NBC news reports that Jordan has denied this, testifying that he drove the car with Jones the night of the murder but didn’t shoot Howell. Jordan received a life sentence on a murder charge after admitting to his role in the killing but was released after 15 years.
Jones said in his request for a commutation hearing that he was home having dinner with his parents the night Howell was killed. But at his 2000 trial, his attorneys did not call any witnesses on his behalf, and refused to call him to take the stand despite his willingness to testify on his own behalf.
Governor J. Kevin Stitt will have the final say on whether Jones’ sentence will be commuted. According to the Oklahoman, he could be immediately eligible for parole because of time already served. Stitt could also choose to commute the sentence to life without parole.
Jones’ case attracted support from celebrities and anti-death penalty activists. Kim Kardashian visited him last year at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, and millions of people signed an online petition on his behalf.
Jones’ case also saw increased urgency recently after Oklahoma’s attorney general requested to schedule execution dates for seven death row prisoners, including Jones.
Oklahoma is the state with the third highest rate of prisoner executions.