Human rights advocates rejoiced Thursday after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt heeded the advice of his state's pardon boardwhich found compelling evidence of the condemned man's innocenceand commuted the death sentence of Julius Jones to life imprisonment without parole with just hours to go before his scheduled execution.
"Now we organize to get Gov. Stitt out of office so Julius Jones can gain his full freedom back."
"After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones' sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," Stitt, a Republican, said in a statement.
"Gov. Stitt took an important step today toward restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man," Amanda Bass, one of Jones' attorneys, said in a statement. "We are grateful that the governor has prevented an irreparable mistake."
Forty-one-year-old Jones was sentenced to death in 2002 after being convicted by a nearly all-white juryone of whose members said that "they should just take the nigger out and shoot him behind the jail"for the murder of businessman Paul Scott Howell.
However, on September 13, the state pardons boarda majority of whose members were appointed by the Republican governorvoted 3-1 to recommend Stitt commute Jones' death sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The board voted again to recommend clemency on November 1.
Millions of people around the worldincluding intellectuals, celebrities, and athletesjoined religious and political figures and institutions in calling for clemency for Jones.
Jim Wallis, director of the Center on Faith and Justice at Georgetown University, said that "there is much to say about the problems with sentencing Julius Jones to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But today is a day to rejoice in God's mercy and celebrate life. An innocent man's life has been spared. Hallelujah!"
While Stitt's clemency order was welcomed, justice advocates decried a stipulation that Jones "shall never again be eligible to apply for, be considered for, or receive any additional commutation, pardon, or parole."
"Now we organize to get Gov. Stitt out of office so Julius Jones can gain his full freedom back," tweeted artist and organizer Brisa Lauren. "Because not only does he not deserve to be executed, he does not deserve life in prison!"
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty tweeted: "While we raise our voices in joy knowing Julius will not be executed, we know the work ahead continues. Freedom for Julius Jones!"