Julius Jones, the Black death row inmate whom Oklahoma planned to kill Thursday afternoon, will be granted clemency, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced. His sentence will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Stitt, who said in a statement that he made the decision after “prayerful consideration” and a review of materials from all sides of Jones’ widely-watched case, offered the relief via executive order on the condition that Jones never be eligible for any additional commutation, pardon, or parole.
“Governor Stitt took an important step today towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man,” Amanda Bass, an attorney for Jones, said in a statement Thursday.
The last-minute decision came just hours before Jones, 41, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection, and as the country waited with bated breath to see if the governor would go ahead with an execution that so many religious leaders, activists, and politicians were vehemently against.
In the lead-up to his planned killing, students protested in Oklahoma City, activists rallied outside the governor’s mansion, and millions signed a petition to spare his life. And most seemed to be on the side of letting Jones live after decades of him maintaining his innocence: Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board had twice recommended clemency before the governor ultimately granted it.
Jones, convicted of the 1999 murder of white businessman Paul Howell, also wrote a letter to the parole board last April insisting that he didn’t kill the man. “The first time I saw him was on television when his death was reported,” he said, according to the New York Times.
“While we had hoped the governor would adopt the board’s recommendation in full by commuting Julius’ sentence to life with the possibility of parole in light of the overwhelming evidence of Julius’s innocence, we are grateful that the governor has prevented an irreparable mistake,” Bass said.
“Our family continues to be victimized by Julius Jones and his lies,” Howell’s brother, Brian Howell, said at a news conference in September.
The fight against Jones’ planned execution also kicked into high gear after the state’s previous execution—its first in six years, thanks to an unofficial moratorium on the practice spurred by a series of botched killings—had disturbing consequences, according to witnesses present for the Oct. 28 incident.
John Marion Grant, sentenced to die after he was convicted of murdering a prison cafeteria worker in 1998, convulsed and vomited in the execution chamber before he perished. Some activists described it as torture.
This story has been updated with comment from Jones’ attorney.