What's next for Julius Jones? Here are the options for inmate after halted execution

Oklahoma Gov Kevin Stitt granted clemency to Julius Jones, commuting his death sentence for the 1999 fatal shooting of businessman Paul Howell


                            What's next for Julius Jones? Here are the options for inmate after halted execution
Julius Jones was supposed to be executed for the 1999 fatal shooting of Paul Howell (Wikimedia)

Legal experts have claimed that the conditions Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt placed on the commutation that halted Julius Jones' execution are "unusual" and "unprecedented". Oklahoma Gov Kevin Stitt granted clemency to inmate Julius Jones, commuting his death sentence on Thursday, November 18, just hours before he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. Jones was supposed to be executed for the 1999 fatal shooting of Paul Howell, a businessman from an Oklahoma City suburb. According to an executive order filed on that day, the inmate's sentence will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jones was supposed to be executed at 4 pm at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. When he and his attorneys were having their final visit, they found out about the clemency at 12:45 pm CT. For the last two weeks, Jones had been holding cell outside the execution chamber. He was reportedly given what was then considered his last meal on Wednesday evening, November 17.

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What's next for Julius Jones?

An earlier order made it clear that Jones' sentence is being commuted with the condition that he "shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life." Amanda Bass, Jones' attorney, said that the governor's decision was an "important step towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man."

Stitt's decision to grant Jones clemency has raised questions regarding what legal options are now open to the inmate if any. Criminal defense attorney Ed Blau has said that after the clemency, Jones "can't request another one." At the same time, Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said, "We had a hunch that if the governor was going to grant clemency, it would be with conditions. And that's pretty much what happened." Tyler Box, a founding partner at Overman Legal Group, described the conditions included in the commutation as "unprecedented".

Dunham told Newsweek that "absent some extraordinary circumstance," Stitt's order seems "to foreclose a future pardon", adding that it would "at best be extraordinarily difficult for any future governor to unilaterally issue a pardon." 

Blau, on the other hand, suggested that it might be possible for Jones to seek a pardon from a future Oklahoma governor. "I think it's an open question as to whether or not a governor can tie the hands of future governors in whether or not somebody can be given a pardon," he told KFOR-TV. He added that it is also possible that the state's attorney general could try to intervene in case a future governor seeks a pardon for Jones. 

According to Box, new evidence, if any, could present Jones' legal team with options moving forward. "I don't know what the family or his supporters have to lose by continuing the fight," he told Newsweek. "But I think that at least while Stitt's in office, probably all that they could do as a legal remedy is any post-conviction relief based on any new evidence that was uncovered."

1999 fatal shooting of Paul Howell

Jones, 41, has now served almost 20 years on death row with numerous questions being raised about his guilt. Jones has maintained that he is not guilty of the crime. Howell was shot to death in the driveway of his parents’ home in Edmond, Oklahoma, on July 28, 1999, and his daughter claimed that she saw Jones shoot her father in the head. There were claims of innocence and controversy surrounding Jones' trial. The inmate and his defense team have argued that he was at home when the murder took place. They have also claimed that his co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, is the real murderer.

A number of celebrities pleaded for Jones' clemency, including reality star Kim Kardashian, who had been lobbying Stitt to follow Parole Board's recommendation and grant clemency to Jones. Besides Kardashian, NBA players including Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, and Blake Griffin had also urged officials to commute the sentence. Jones' family and supporters had been pressuring Stitt to commute his sentence to life in prison.

As Jones was granted clemency, Howell's family remains convinced that he killed the businessman. "We know Governor Stitt had a difficult decision to make," the family said in a statement. "We take comfort that his decision affirmed the guilt of Julius Jones and that he shall not be eligible to apply for, or be considered for, a commutation, pardon or parole for the remainder of his life." "Julius Jones forever changed our lives and the lives of (Paul Howell's) family and friends," the statement said.