An Oklahoma death row inmate’s last chance rests with the governor.

Julius Jones is scheduled for lethal injection at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester unless Gov. Kevin Stitt takes the recommendation of the state’s parole board and grants clemency.

Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1999 death of 45-year-old insurance executive Paul Howell, who was shot in the head during a carjacking in the driveway of his parents’ home in Edmond.

Jones has maintained his innocence and alleges the actual killer is a high school friend and former co-defendant who was a key prosecution witness.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and former state Attorney General Mike Hunter have said the evidence is overwhelmingly against Jones.

Howell’s daughter, Rachel, has testified and reiterated she was in the vehicle the night of her father’s murder and remembers seeing Jones. Authorities said the killer was wearing a red bandana and they found the murder weapon wrapped in a red bandana above Jones’ closet ceiling.

Test results in 2018 found Jones’ DNA on the bandana and not that of the man he claims framed him. Oklahoma’s former attorney general said the odds of the DNA belonging to someone other than Jones are 1 in 110 million African Americans.

According to the Innocence Project, which works to free innocent people from prison:

• Jones and his parents have said he was eating dinner with them at the time of the murder, but his legal team didn’t call any of them to the stand during the trial.

• A witness described the killer as having 1-2 inches of hair, but Jones had a shaved head at the time. Oklahoma’s star prosecution witness, Christopher Jordan, matched the eyewitness’ hair description at the time, but testified he was just the “getaway driver” in part of a plea deal for a 15-year sentence he has already served, according to the Innocence Project.

• “Three people incarcerated with Mr. Jordan at different times have said in sworn affidavits that Mr. Jordan told each of them that he committed the murder and framed Mr. Jones. None of these three men have met Mr. Jones and they do not know one another. And none of them have been offered a shorter sentence or incentive in exchange for disclosing Mr. Jordan’s confessions.

Jones has drawn support from anti-death penalty advocates and celebrities including Kim Kardashian West and Stephen Curry, and more recently gained support from some Republican lawmakers. Five Republican state legislators wrote a statement last week calling on Stitt to grant clemency to Jones. They still advocate for the death penalty’s use in some crimes, but said execution shouldn’t be an option if there’s any doubt in a capital case.

State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, reportedly wrote a letter to Stitt advocating for Jones to be taken off death row. State Rep. Preston Stinson, R-Edmond, said in a press release that Howell’s murder was “a terrible tragedy for his family and this entire community,” adding constituents have questions about the case.

Jones’ case gained notoriety after being featured in the 2018 three-episode ABC documentary, “The Last Defense,” produced by Viola Davis, which raised many questions regarding the case.

Some supporters argue that Jones, who is Black, should be granted clemency due to “racial bias” during the arrest, prosecution and conviction.

Oklahoma’s former attorney general said in 2020 an investigation found one juror said during the trial they “should place him in a box in the ground for what he has done,” but no other juror heard the comment. He said nothing reported to the trial judge indicated use of a racial slur.

Two separate Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Boards have recommended clemency for Jones in 2014 and again this year — with three of four board members citing doubts about the case’s evidence.

Stitt ultimately decides whether to take the board’s recommendation to grant clemency.

Madeline Davis-Jones, the mother of Julius Jones, took a letter to the governor and held a vigil outside his office Monday in an effort to spare her son’s life. She said a representative told her the Stitt was unavailable to meet with her.

A Stitt spokesman said the governor is reviewing the parole board’s recommendation.

Last month’s execution

If the execution goes forward, it would be the second in a series that is expected this fall and spring in the state.

John Marion Grant, convicted of killing a prison cafeteria worker, was executed last month - Oklahoma’s first execution in nearly seven years.

Oklahoma stopped executions in 2015 over scrutiny on the state’s three-drug protocol used in a series of problematic lethal injections.

Clayton Lockett, convicted in 2000 of murder and several other charges, writhed in agony for about 43 minutes on a gurney before his 2014 death that brought scrutiny on Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols. A state investigation later found the IV in Lockett’s groin came loose and prolonged his death.

News-Capital staff witnessed the January 2015 lethal injection of Charles Warner, who was convicted in the rape and murder of an infant. It was later discovered Oklahoma used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride — which wasn't approved in protocols at that time.

A grand jury found Oklahoma’s then-general counsel, Steve Mullins, told prison officials to proceed using the same mixture used in Warner’s execution for another death row inmate’s execution, that of Richard Glossip. But then-Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin intervened by issuing a stay in the last 30 minutes before Glossip’s scheduled execution.

State officials announced in 2018 they planned to develop protocols for using nitrogen gas in executions before Gov. Kevin Stitt and then-attorney general Mike Hunter announced in February 2020 the state would resume lethal injections using the same three-drug combination it used in Lockett’s 2014 execution.

Oklahoma uses midazolam to first render the inmate unconscious, then vecuronium bromide as a muscle relaxant, and finally potassium chloride to stop the heart.

Attorneys for several Oklahoma death row inmates raised questions in court challenges about the effectiveness of midazolam — the first of Oklahoma’s three-drug cocktail used in executions.

A U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel previously stayed the executions for Grant and Jones — but the U.S. Supreme Court lifted both stays just hours before Grant’s death.

Witnesses said Grant convulsed nearly two dozen times and vomited on himself before he died by lethal injection.

Scott Crow, Oklahoma’s prisons director who oversaw Grant’s execution, disputed witness accounts and said the department didn’t plan to change protocols.

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