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An Oklahoma death row inmate may avoid execution after a parole board recommended to commute his sentence for a deadly carjacking more than two decades ago.
Julius Jones, who’s spent more than half of his life incarcerated for the slaying of an insurance executive, had his sentence commuted by a vote of 3 to 1 by the state’s pardon and parole board on Monday. A fifth member recused himself from the vote. The decision could downgrade Jones’ sentence to life in prison.
“I believe in death penalty cases there should be no doubt, and put simply, I have doubts in this case,” parole board Chairman Adam Luck said, NBC News reported. “I cannot ignore those doubts, especially when the stakes are life and death.”
The news overwhelmed members of Jones’ family, who celebrated the announcement.
“I don’t have a lot of words,” Jones’ sibling, Antoinette Jones said. “I’m just thanking God.”
Jones’ fate now rests with Oklahoma Gov. Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has the ultimate say in terms of upholding the parole board's recommendation.
“The governor takes his role in this process seriously and will carefully consider the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation as he does in all cases,” Charlie Hannema, chief of communications for Stitt’s office, said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com on Tuesday.
On July 28, 1999, Paul Howell was gunned down in the driver’s seat of his Chevrolet Suburban in front of his sister and two daughters. Howell, who was also run over during the incident, suffered a gunshot wound to the head.
Howell’s family told authorities the shooter was wearing a red bandana, white shirt, and a black stocking cap.
Law enforcement later found a .25 caliber pistol wrapped in a red bandana located in the attic above Jones’ bedroom at his parents’ residence. The firearm’s magazine was located in the home’s doorbell. Days after the carjacking, Jones was arrested for Howell’s murder.
At the time of the slaying, Jones was a rising athlete at the University of Oklahoma.
Jones’ legal team have long maintained that Jones' high school friend, Christopher Jordan, was responsible for the shooting — and that he planted the murder weapon at Jones' parents’ home. During trial, Jordan denied killing Howell. He later served 15 years behind bars for his involvement in the killing.
Jones contended his legal team refrained from calling any witnesses on his behalf and pressured him not to testify.
“While I wish that I’d gone to the police with what I knew, I was scared to get involved,” Jones stated in his commutation request. “I was, like other young black men in my neighborhood, afraid of the police, and I didn’t trust them.”
His family maintains he was home on the night of the fatal shooting.
“I remember because he was pacing, saying, ‘I can’t believe he ate my cake, he’s always eating my stuff,” Antoinette Jones also told The Washington Post. “I can’t wait to tell Momma,'”
The family of Paul Howell, however, was enraged by Jones' growing following. They were adamant Jones shouldn’t avoid capital punishment.
“These celebrities and influencers don’t bother to reach out to us about it. I think the thing that is most frustrating about all this is you influence your followers,” Rachel Howell, his daughter, told KFOR-TV. “If you’re a celebrity, an influencer, an athlete, you have a lot of followers who look up to you. I think the only thing I want these celebrities to know is to think about the victim’s family. Take the time to at least look at both sides. You don’t have all the information.”
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