Oklahoma death row inmate has now been moved to “death watch”
The innocence movement to free Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones has reached unprecedented heights, attracting support from some of the world’s most prominent celebrities, diplomats, and athletes.
But with Jones’s execution set for 18 November, and Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt giving no public signs so far he’ll intervene to stop it, the Jones family says they’ve never felt more unseen.
“I’m empty inside. I feel invisible,” Madeline Davis-Jones, Julius’s mother, said on Wednesday, as the family headed into its final visit with Julius at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester before the execution on Thursday.
Jones has been on death row for the last two decades for the 1999 murder of Oklahoma City businessman Paul Howell, yet in recent years it seemed like after 20 years of tireless activism, Jones’s claims of innocence had finally been heard.
A 2018 ABC documentary called The Last Defense inspired nationwide support for his case, and this fall the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended twice that he be taken off death row, citing questions about whether the court identified the true killer. It was the first time the board had recommended such a step in state history.
But Oklahoma has a long history of executing Black men, and it was always going to be an uphill battle. The state has conducted the most executions per capita in modern US history, has nearly the highest Black incarceration rate in the country, and has a disproportionate error rate when it comes to wrongfully convicting Black death row inmates.
The Howell family, as well as Oklahoma officials like attorney general John O’Connor, say they’re confident Jones was the true killer. Mr O’Connor said he was “100 per cent certain” in an interview on Tuesday with KOCO.
“I’ve reviewed the evidence three different times, looked at all the exhibits, and there’s no doubt in my mind,” the attorney general said.
Thus far, the governor has refused to meet with the Jones family directly, and is reportedly in “solitude praying.”
Jones has also turned to his Christian faith during these tense moments.
He met on Tuesday with reverend Keith Jossell, his spiritual adviser and former Sunday school teacher.
Jones was reportedly chained so thoroughly that the men couldn’t hug each other, as they normally did when they met.
“Being chained like he was, it brought tears to his eyes because no one wants to be treated like they are less than an animal,” Revered Jossell told The Oklahoman.
He shared with Jones a Bible verse to consider as his execution date looms.
The passage comes from Hebrews 11:1, which reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Jones is now on death watch as his lethal injection date nears, a process that includes boxing his possessions to send to his family, moving him to a cell near the execution chamber, and cutting off his phone privileges with the outside world.
Faith has long been a motivating factor for the activists and leaders who have rallied behind Jones, and faith, along with the conscience of a fellow Christian governor, is what they now turn to for a final decision.
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.