By Casey Rawlings
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Julius Jones has a mounting group of supporters who gathered nearly seven million signatures on his behalf and took his case in front of the parole board.
But despite the parole board twice recommending his death sentence be revised to life without the possibility of parole, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt did not amend his sentence until Thursday, hours before Jones was scheduled to die.
Gov. Stitt announced his decision on Twitter, saying he came to the decision after “prayerful consideration.” Many advocates, although happy Jones has been spared from state-sanctioned murder, argue life without parole is too punitive, and allows no opportunity for restorative justice for Jones and his family.
Julius Jones was a 19-year-old university student at the University of Oklahoma when he was targeted as the prime suspect in the killing of Paul Howell, a white businessman.
He described, “I mean that’s it. I had no idea anybody had been shot or killed.” Jones was passionate about school and basketball at the time, and was on the verge of acquiring a basketball scholarship, according to the university.
Howell was shot 20 miles away from Jones while he was in his car. His sister described the shooter as a “Black man wearing a stocking cap with half an inch of hair hanging out.” Three suspects interviewed by local police pinned Jones and a high school basketball teammate, Chris.
Despite a lack of evidence to directly connect Jones with the murder, according to Jones’ supporters, he was convicted.
Jones knew Chris because they played basketball together, and Jones helped him take the ACT test. Jones described, “I didn’t know that Chris was robbing people or had plans to do that—I wasn’t involved with that and didn’t do any kind of stuff like that with them.”
Chris was the state’s key witness against Jones.
Dale Baich, Jones’ attorney explained “we have serious concerns by the way the evidence was collected, handled, and stored.” Baich remarked that Jones was targeted and painted as a “self-proclaimed car thug and a gang member.”
After providing this information, Chris walked free after serving half of his time, as opposed to the agreed-upon 30 years.
In 2002, Jones was convicted of murder and sentenced to death at just 22 years old. He has since spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement while people on the outside fight on behalf of his innocence.
Jones says he is able to advocate for his innocence while still respecting the Howell family and the gravity of the event because he was raised in love.
He described, “I empathize with those little girls because they lost their father, as my children have lost their father. I’m a human being who has had to think about this every day, and I just empathize with their loss because it hurts, man—not to be able to have people that you can touch and hold dear to you.
“If people took the time to know me, they would know that I’ve always been this way—even as a kid and a teenager who was stealing stuff.. Check my whole track record. Not what’s embellished about me, not a microcosm of it—but my whole track record,” he said.
He advocated on behalf of his inherent non-violence, stating, “I’ve never been violent. Yeah, I’ve broken the law, but I’ve never been violent. In 20-plus years of prison and jail, I’ve never been violent.”