The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board has voted to commute Julius Jones’ death sentence to life in prison with a possibility of parole. The recommendation will now head to Gov. Kevin Stitt who has the final say.
The vote came after the parole board’s first ever enhanced commutation hearing. A number of people spoke at the hearing, including murder victim Paul Howell’s brother Bill Howell. He said the supporters who’ve been advocating for Jones haven’t been following the case since it was opened in 1999.
"They blindly have followed a media campaign made up of deception, misinformation, and outright lies. I cannot understand how these people can advocate for his release. None of these people were present at the trial. None of them have read the transcripts of the trial, or the evidentiary hearings, or the appeals. They know nothing."
Paul Howell's daughter Rachel who saw her father's murder also said she believed Jones was guilty.
“I never really looked into the facts about this case as I grew up because I felt like I didn’t need to. The overwhelming amount of evidence is there and the courts made their decision. But over the last few years it seems like this has just all blown up. I was forced to really dig deep and learn all of the facts about this case so I could make a decision for myself.”
Following comments from the family, attorneys on both sides of the case spoke. Then four of the five parole board members voted.
Parole board member Scott Williams recused himself before the hearing began after Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater accused him of partiality for knowing Kelli Masters, an attorney who spoke in favor of Jones at the hearing.
Board member Adam Luck said he had doubts about some aspects of the case against Jones and he couldn’t ignore them.
"I cannot ignore those doubts especially when the stakes are life and death. For this reason my vote is yes, and I recommend commuting the sentence to life with the possibility of parole."
Board member Kelly Doyle also voted to commute.
"Mr. Jones was 19 years old at the time of the crime. What we know about brain science and brain development now is not what we knew when Mr. Jones was convicted. One's ability to manage impulses and understand one's consequences was not fully understood science 20 years ago," said Doyle.
Larry Morris also voted in favor of Jones, while former district attorney Richard Smothermon was the lone vote against commutation.
There is no time limit for a decision from the governor.