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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt granted clemency for Julius Jones with only hours to go Thursday, commuting his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Jones’ mother and supporters who had filled the State Capitol rotunda for several days in a row broke out into shouts and screams as they heard the news.

This video was shot by Tyler Talley, a reporter with eCapitol:

Breaking the tension

Word of the commutation eased tensions in Oklahoma City as each passing day leading up to Thursday saw increased anxiety and anger in Jones’ supporters.

As the week wore on authorities became concerned about the tensions growing across Oklahoma City, not just among Black people but among a broad spectrum of people.

Barriers that were erected earlier in the week along the opposite side of NE 23rd Street in front of the Governor’s Mansion (still being remodeled and not occupied by Stitt) just east of the Capitol Building betrayed the concern of the Oklahoma Hiway Patrol who are responsible for securing the Capitol grounds including the Mansion.

Governor's Mansion
The Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion with barricades set up on the North side of NE 23rd and traffic barrels on the south side. Oklahoma Hiway Patrol Troopers lined the area by the barrels the night before execution day. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

As well, outside the Oklahoma City Police Headquarters downtown Thursday around noon heavy vans and what appeared to be special teams were gathering seemingly preparing for city-wide unrest if the Governor did not stop the execution.

One person who was in the crowd across from the Mansion for several nights in a row and who wished to not be identified said that they were growing more and more concerned with the anger levels that were rising in the crowds in response to the law enforcement preparations.

Only one arrest was made throughout any of the peaceful demonstrations. It was Ebenezer Baptist Church Pastor Derrick Scobey, who chose civil disobedience by allowing himself to get arrested for kneeling in the street in front of the Governor’s Mansion.

Highway Patrol Troopers ordered Scobey and several others out of the street that had been blocked off earlier in the evening. When they refused to move, Scobey was arrested. In handcuffs, he shouted for others to move back out of the street and to stay nonviolent which they did.

Prayer Vigil

Thursday evening many of the same people who came out to a rally Saturday night were present at a prayer vigil once again across the street from the Governor’s mansion.

Julius Jones mother, Madeline Davis-Jones or “Momma Jones” danced for a few moments and then spoke to the crowd saying at one point, “Rest today, and celebrate because tomorrow is a new day.”

For full and knowledgable street-level video coverage of this week’s lead up and today’s events see Tyreke Baker’s tweets for the news publication he founded, The Black Times.

Joy and reservations

At the end of the prayer vigil, Free Press visited with Adrianna Laws, an activist for racial justice, and Connie Johnson who has declared her candidacy for Governor in the next election for the Democratic Party.

We asked Laws what she felt at that point after having worked so hard for years and then almost around the clock starting last week.

“It’s a mix of emotions, right? Because even though the governor spared Julius’ life today, he put limitations on that. And, those limitations are that he can no longer be eligible for parole or commutation,” said Laws. “And so, that is frustrating. However, I’m extremely relieved to know that our brother is gonna breathe ….”

Johnson told us that Stitt’s stopping the execution “represented a breakthrough after years of advocacy.”

She said that it was time, and gave “all credit to God!”

“We are last in everything good and first in everything bad,” said Johnson who pointed out that there are more on death row waiting for their execution.

“So, now we have this moment of celebration and it’s a time to build on it and continue,” she said.

Nineteen years

Jones has been on death row for 19 years for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones has insisted all along that he did not murder Howell. His co-defendant in the trial has confessed to a cellmate that Jones wasn’t the one who murdered Howell.

The defense team from the Public Defenders office were inexperienced and made several large blunders during the trial which supporters of Jones point to as yet another reason why the death penalty for Jones is extreme.

Julius Jones
Julius Jones OKDOC photo from 2011

But, the DA’s office and family of Paul Howell continue to insist that Jones is the one who committed the murder.

In September, the Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend to Governor Stitt that he commute the death sentence to life with the possibility of parole.

Stitt refused to follow the board’s guidance and the execution date was set for Thursday, November 18.

Jones’ execution is one of seven scheduled after they were stopped in 2015 by then-Governor Mary Fallin after the 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. Questions arose about the three-drug cocktail used that had produced some of the same effects during executions in other states.

The first this year was that of John Marion Grant who execution concluded after a time on the gurney throwing up and convulsing from the same three-drug cocktail that had produced similar results in Clayton Lockett’s execution.

Last Updated November 19, 2021, 8:20 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor