The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Oklahoma Governor Trades a Death Sentence … for a Death Sentence

Nov 22, 2021

Just hours before the scheduled execution of Julius Jones, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Sitt “commuted” Jones’s death sentence to life in prison without parole. That is, Sitt condemned Jones to die in prison later.

This is the governor’s response to a long-standing, widespread, public outcry against Jones’s murder conviction in 1999. Back in February, hundreds of supporters of Jones had presented the Oklahoma parole board with a petition signed by 6.2 million people—more than one and a half times the population of Oklahoma—which, no doubt, influenced the parole board’s recommendation for the governor to grant Jones clemency.

For years, prominent athletes and celebrities have come forward in support of Jones, who has spent 22 years—more than half of his life—in prison, and 20 years of it on death row. But still, Oklahoma courts rejected Jones’ appeals, and the governor dragged his feet announcing his decision. Frustrated, hundreds of students from Oklahoma City high schools walked out of their classes—and occupied the state capitol—on November 17, one day before Jones was scheduled to be executed.

It’s obvious that Jones, then 19 years old, was railroaded to death row for the murder of Paul Howell. Jones and his family testified that he was at his home at the time of the murder, for example, but not even Jones’ lawyer mentioned it during the trial. Even the parole board, in its recommendation for clemency, pointed to “doubts” cast about the evidence used at Jones’ trial. Yet in the end, Oklahoma Governor Sitt not only swapped one type of death sentence for another; he made it in fact legally more difficult for Jones to fight for his freedom.

The case of Julius Jones is another chapter in the long history of legal lynchings of black men in this country.