(Washington, D.C.) Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted the death sentence of Julius Jones Thursday just hours before his scheduled execution, partially-heeding two clemency recommendations from the state’s Pardon and Parole Board. Due to Jones’ strong claim of innocence and many lingering doubts about his case, earlier this month the board officially recommended resentencing him to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Governor Stitt, however, chose to commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
“The problems with Julius Jones’ original trial and conviction are numerous and well-documented. We give thanks to God that Julius will not be executed today,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network. “We also acknowledge how our broken system of capital punishment revictimizes and retraumatizes the loved ones of victims and those condemned to death. Today we hold in prayer the families of both Paul Howell and Julius Jones, and ask God for their continued healing.”
“It took tremendous courage in the face of intense pressure for Gov. Stitt to grant clemency in this case,” said Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. “I applaud his commitment to seeking justice while providing the condemned an opportunity for redemption. To oppose the death penalty is not to be soft on crime. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life.”
Millions of advocates urged Governor Stitt to issue Jones’ sentence commutation, citing the widely-publicized issues with his case which include racial bias, withheld evidence, inconsistencies, poor representation, junk science, and more.
“The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is always unacceptable,” said Vaillancourt Murphy. “But during his papacy, Pope Francis has also raised serious concerns about life sentences, which he calls a ‘secret death penalty.’ While life without parole may effectively preserve human life, it does not allow individuals the ‘possibility of redemption’ — a dimension to criminal justice that the Catholic Catechism urges in all cases.”
Jones’ execution date was one of seven recently scheduled by the state of Oklahoma. The dates were set amid ongoing litigation surrounding the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol. A trial on the issue is scheduled in federal court for February 2022.
Oklahoma carried out the first of these executions on Oct. 28, 2021, taking the life of John Grant in what turned out to be an appallingly problematic execution that left Grant convulsing repeatedly and vomiting before his death. Grant’s was the first execution in Oklahoma since the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett and the 2015 execution of Charles Warner using the wrong drug.
Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.
CMN works in close collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and lives the Spirit of Unity of its sponsor, the Congregation of St. Joseph.