Will Oklahoma proceed with the execution of Julius Jones?
The push to delay Jones’s execution has been championed by Kim Kardashian West, Baker Mayfield, and Russell Westbrook.
Update Nov. 18: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’s death sentence Thursday. Jones will now serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Our original story appears below.
In less than 24 hours, Julius Jones is scheduled to end his decades-long imprisonment on Oklahoma’s death row with a needle in his arm, the latest death at the hands of a state that’s killed more people than almost anywhere else in the country. As his execution date nears, the chorus of advocates and activists speaking up on Jones’s behalf has only grown louder, with calls to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt to call off the planned lethal injection coming from celebrities as disparate as Kim Kardashian West and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board has also twice voted to recommend clemency in this case.
Jones, now in his early 40s, was convicted in 2002 for the 1999 shooting death of Paul Howell. But he has maintained his innocence since that time, claiming he was framed by co-defendant Christopher Jordan, evidence of which Jones says was never allowed in court. Jones’s conviction was also followed by allegations of racism from at least one of the jurors who was accused of using a slur while claiming Jones — who is Black — should be taken behind the courthouse and shot. His case was later featured in an episode of ABC’s The Last Defense, bringing further scrutiny into the circumstances of his conviction and imprisonment.
Kardashian West, who has become one of the most visible public advocates for incarcerated people in recent years, has used her enormous social media platform to draw attention to Jones’s plight several times since the episode aired. She most recently tweeted an extended appeal for Jones’s life, calling his case a “miscarriage of justice” and part of “the cold machinery of the death penalty in America.”
Jones’s case has also been championed within the pro sports community, with Mayfield growing visibly upset while pleading for Stitt to grand clemency during a press conference this week. Mayfield played college football at the University of Oklahoma.
Utah Jazz assistant coach Irv Roland, a childhood friend of Jones, has also spoken out on Jones’s behalf, telling The Salt Lake Tribune that “I have a hard time believing that God would bring us this far and give us this much momentum, this much worldwide awareness to Julius Jones’s case, just to have him executed anyway.” NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook, who spent 11 seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, has also personally intervened on Jones behalf, writing in a letter to Stitt that the conviction was “tainted by a deeply flawed process.”
Even the European Union as a whole has publicly come out against Jones’s scheduled execution, with the organization’s U.S. ambassador tweeting that the EU “firmly opposes capital punishment at all times and in all circumstances.”
There has also been a groundswell of grassroots support for Jones, most recently shown in the mass protests that took place at the Oklahoma State Capitol Building on Wednesday, where activists and allies sang and clapped as they demanded leniency.
Despite the mass resistance to Oklahoma forcing another potentially botched execution onto a possibly innocent man, or at least one whose conviction was tainted enough to call into question the application of the death penalty, Stitt has given no public sign that he plans to accept the recommendations of his own nominees to the state’s Pardon and Parole Board.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Conner, long rumored to have pushed Stitt not to grant Jones any sort of clemency, has said publicly that he would support the governor no matter what he decides, but stressed that he still believed Jones was “100%” guilty.