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Calls mount for Stitt to commute Julius Jones' death sentence

Three state lawmakers with the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus standing at a podium and in front of a video board for a news conference.
State Reps. Monroe Nichols (left), Jason Lowe and Regina Goodwin were among the participants in a news conference Wednesday calling on Gov. Kevin Stitt to approve the parole board's recommendation to reduce Julius Jones' death sentence to life with the possibility of parole.

Groups from the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus to conservative leaders are calling on Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant Julius Jones clemency and commute his death sentence as the pardon and parole board recommended earlier this week.

Caucus Chair Rep. Jason Lowe, who does not support the death penalty, said at a Wednesday news conference there are too many doubts surrounding Jones’ conviction for the murder of Paul Howell more than 20 years ago.

"There's so many questions, as far as identification, as far as junk science, as far as the representation that he had. Even his lawyers who represented him indicated that they did not do an adequate job for him," Lowe said.

The parole board in September recommended commuting Jones’ death sentence to life with the possibility of parole, but Stitt declined to act, saying this week’s clemency hearing should take place. Caucus Vice-Chair Rep. Monroe Nichols said based on that, he hopes Stitt will approve the board’s recommendation now.

"There's not any justice for the Howell family, either, if an innocent man dies. We have gained nothing as a society. I think the thing that we can gain to restore some faith in our institutions is to ensure if we have a process and that process gives out a resounding recommendation, particularly in this case, that we follow that recommendation," Nichols said.

The caucus also urged Stitt not to take a half measure and keep Jones in prison for the rest of his life by cutting his sentence to life without parole.

"We're not even talking about political prices here. We're talking about the price of a life. We're talking about the price of a family that's son has been incarcerated for some 22 years. And we're saying, if you have not committed the murder, why in the world would you spend the rest of your life in prison? It's that simple," said Rep. Regina Goodwin.

The Rev. John Reed with the OKC Baptist Ministers Association said he knows this is probably one of the most important decisions of Stitt’s tenure as governor.

"I also know personally that the governor is of the Christian faith, and he also understands and knows all of the teachings of our leader, Jesus Christ," Reed said.

Several conservative and faith leaders have written letters to Stitt, including American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp and Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Timothy Head.

"As representatives of staunchly pro-life organizations, we believe that taking an innocent life — whether a baby in its mother’s womb or a wrongly convicted adult — is wrong. As long as that outcome is possible, we believe one must err on the side of life. Accordingly, we urge you to commute Julius Jones’ sentence," they wrote.

Stitt’s office has not said when he will make a decision. He is currently on a state trip to Mexico. Jones’ execution is Nov. 18.