On Sept. 20, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals announced it had scheduled seven executions between Oct. 28, 2021 and Mar. 10, 2022, including a Nov. 18 execution date for Julius Jones, who has a strong innocence claim.
In a vote of 3-1 earlier this month, the Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Parole recommended commutation for Jones, who has been on the state's death row for 19 years. The highly-anticipated commutation hearing took place following a request by Oklahoma's new attorney general, John O’Connor, to restart executions in the state for the first time since 2015.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt declined to accept the Board’s recommendation to commute Jones' death sentence.
O'Connor's request for execution dates came after a U.S. district judge ruled that six men were eligible for execution since they had not chosen an alternative method of execution in a pending constitutional challenge to Oklahoma's protocol for lethal injection. A seventh man did not challenge the protocols and was therefore also eligible for execution.
Jones, whose strong claim of innocence has gained national attention and public cries for clemency, is the first person on death row to have his commutation case heard by Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board.
In a statement responding to the attorney general's original request for executions to resume, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa said, “We are disappointed and surprised by the state’s haste to set execution dates for six men on death row at the same time a federal court is reviewing Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol to determine if it is constitutional."
On Thursday, Sept. 30, an op-ed by Archbishop Coakley appeared in The Oklahoman. In it, the archbishop, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urges the state to reverse course on the executions.
"To oppose the death penalty is not to be soft on crime. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life."
"To oppose the death penalty is not to be soft on crime. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life."https://t.co/LV28NI0fU9
— Catholic Mobilizing Network (@CMNEndtheDP) September 30, 2021