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Oklahoma parole board recommends commutation for Julius Jones

Oklahoma parole board recommends commutation for Julius Jones
Julius Jones was sentenced to death for the 1999 slaying of Paul Howell. File Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that Gov. Kevin Stitt grant a commutation for a death row prisoner set to be executed later this month.

It's the second time the board has recommended clemency for Julius Jones in the past two months.

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Monday's recommendation will now go to Stitt who will determine whether to commute Jones' death sentence to life imprisonment.

Jones' attorney, Amanda Bass, welcomed the decision by the board.

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"The Pardon and Parole Board has now twice voted in favor of commuting Julius Jones' death sentence, acknowledging the grievous errors that led to his conviction and death sentence. We hope that Gov. Stitt will exercise his authority to accept the board's recommendation and ensure that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man," she said in an emailed statement to UPI.

Jones was sentenced to death for the 1999 slaying of Paul Howell, who was shot to death outside his parents home. A witness said they saw a Black man wearing a red bandana and with 1 inch to 2 inches of hair shoot Howell and steal his SUV.

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Jones, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, has maintained his innocence.

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His attorneys said he was at home with his family at the time of the shooting, a fact that Jones' trial lawyers never presented at trial.

The clemency petition said Jones also didn't match the description a witness gave of the shooter. Lawyers said the description matched that of co-defendant Christopher Jordan, who received 15 years in prison after becoming a witness for prosecutors in Jones' trial.

Jordan allegedly admitted to others that he killed Howell, not Jones, the petition said.

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Meanwhile, Jones' lawyers said his case was "racially charged from the beginning," pointing to an arresting officer who used a racial slur against Jones. A juror during the trial also told a bailiff that a fellow juror allegedly used a racial slur as well.

Jones' supporters accused prosecutors of corruption and misconduct for using professional informants and failing to disclose deals they cut with witnesses, while his public defenders were "inexperienced, overwhelmed and under-resourced," according to the clemency petition.

Jones, who is scheduled to be executed Nov. 18, is one of dozens of death row prisoners suing over Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol.

The state announced Feb. 13, 2020, that it planned to resume executions nearly six years after the use of an incorrect drug led to the botched execution of a convicted murderer. Stitt had said that after mulling the option of using nitrogen gas to carry out executions, the state has now found a "reliable supply of drugs" to resume lethal injections.

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Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol came under scrutiny in 2014 when Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack amid complications during his execution.

Autopsy reports released a year later indicated Oklahoma corrections officials used the wrong drug -- potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride -- during the process. Lockett complained of a burning sensation and attempted to raise his head and speak after doctors declared he was unconscious.

The same incorrect drug was delivered to corrections officials for use in the planned 2015 execution of Richard Glossip. Former Gov. Mary Ballin called off Glossip's execution with a last-minute, indefinite stay after she learned of the discrepancy.

After the execution of Charles Warner in January 2015, the state had an unofficial moratorium on executions as it attempted to secure a supply of lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma uses a three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Oklahoma carried out its first execution in nearly seven years last week on John Grant. Media witnesses said Grant convulsed and vomited multiple times after he was administered the initial drug in the lethal injection protocol.

Executions in the United States have undergone changes in recent years after states started running out of the essential lethal injection drug pentobarbital. The European Union in 2011 voted to prohibit the sale of the drug and seven other barbiturates to the United States for use in torture or executions. Other pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs for lethal injection purposes outright, and some will only sell if their name is kept confidential.

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Now states are being forced to use new drug cocktails, scramble to restock their stores of drugs and review their lethal injection policies.

In 2018, Oklahoma's attorney general's office announced it would use nitrogen gas inhalation as its primary method of execution. Officials, though, had difficulty finding a manufacturer to sell a method for administering the gas for an execution. Additionally, state law says nitrogen hypoxia may be used for executions only if drugs for lethal injections are unavailable.

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