The death sentence of Julius Jones, whose case was documented in 2018 “The Last Defense,” was commuted on Thursday mere hours before his execution was scheduled to take place.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The news comes after a last-minute court appeal on the grounds that the state’s execution process amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Jones, 41, was sentenced for the 1999 murder of Oklahoma City businessman Paul Howard. Jones has maintained his innocence for 20 years.
The case drew renewed interest in 2018 with the release of the Viola Davis-produced documentary “The Last Defense.” The seven-part series explored the racial injustices baked into the American justice system and capital punishment process through the lens of Jones’ story. It also covered the case of Darlie Routier, a Texas mother convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 murders of her two children.
Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board twice voted 3-1 in favor of granting Jones clemency and commuting his sentence to life in prison.
“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.
“While we had hoped the board 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’ innocence, we are grateful that the Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.”
Leading up to the planned execution, NBC reported that students staged walkouts and that supporters gathered for prayer vigils outside of the state Capitol.
A number of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and star athletes including Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young have advocated for Jones on social media.