The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted on Monday to recommend the governor to commute the death sentence of Julius Jones, who has maintained his innocence in a 1999 killing that has garnered national attention.
Jones was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. However, the 40-year-old has always maintained his innocence and has garnered support from high-profile celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Baker Mayfield and Blake Griffin.
The five-member board, in a 3-1 vote, recommended commuting Jones' to life in prison, however, the final decision will be up to Governor Kevin Stitt.
Ahead of the crucial decision, officials with Stitt's office released a statement, saying, "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. We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision."
"Personally, I believe in death penalty cases there should be no doubts. And put simply, I have doubts about this case," said Chairman Adam Luck, one of Stitt's appointees on the board who voted to commute Jones' sentence.
Former District Attorney Richard Smothermon, another Stitt appointee, cast the lone no vote.
Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said the governor plans to review the board's recommendation carefully.
“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," Atchison said in a statement. “We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision.”
Jones alleges he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and a former co-defendant who was a key witness against him. But Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and the state’s former attorney general, Mike Hunter, have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming.
Information from trial transcripts shows that witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon and a bandana with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his commutation filing that the gun and bandana were planted there by the actual killer.
With inputs from the Associated Press