Cheers filled the air as a 3-1 vote to recommend Julius Jones clemency was announced over a speaker to approximately 200 Justice for Julius supporters in the Evangelistic Baptist Church of Christ’s parking lot Monday afternoon.
The decision came after a three-hour clemency hearing where Jones and the family of Paul Howell, the man Jones is accused of killing, spoke. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board came to a decision after a 10 minute deliberation.
Some of Jones’ supporters said this decision is just the beginning.
“Now that we got that decision, I’ve been a lot better,” Eugene Smith, one of the rally supporters, said. “(One) voted no. But you know, everyone else voted yes. So that made me feel good. It made everyone feel good. I'm sure Julius is feeling a lot better now. His fight’s not over, but it's one step closer to the overall victory.”
The board voted to commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole Sept. 13. However, Gov. Kevin Sitt delayed his decision, writing in a release that clemency hearings are the precedent for decisions on death row inmates.
Stitt is aware of the board's vote today, but will not offer a comment until he makes a final decision, according to a statement from the governor's office Monday.
Cameron Gray, a supporter at the rally, said this process made the Monday decision more emotional for those who have been through the “ups and downs” of the case.
Oklahoma Progress Now’s Advocacy and Political Director and OU alumnus Tasneem Al-Michael said the decision made him feel more hopeful about discrimination issues in society as a whole and gave him a moment of “pure joy and happiness.”
“If it can be done one time, then we could do it over and over again. Because guess what, if people really like it, they'll keep doing it,” Al-Michael said. “That's what we need to be doing with innocent Black men (and) innocent brown people who are constantly being harassed by the government.”
Gray said he believes the decision will make a large impact within the state by helping those who have faced oppression.
“I think that it's big for Oklahoma. We haven't really seen anything like this in Oklahoma before, as far as people coming together and saying, ‘Hey, the systems that have been used to oppress minorities, like Julius, we're not going to do it anymore,’” Gray said. “(To) see people of all races, ethnicities, ages, I think that that's awesome because that's not something that we've seen a lot historically in Oklahoma. It's encouraging.”
Jones' case has garnered national attention, as well as attention from the OU community.
Wow. I’m so thankful the board voted for clemency for Julius Jones. All the love goes to him, his family, and Black Oklahomans everywhere because it’s still up to @GovStitt to do the right thing https://t.co/sBdn53zJLN— Alex Gray (@alexggrayyyy) November 1, 2021
Ironic that at the top of @GovStitt contact page it says "every Oklahoma voice deserves to be heard." Well, today we see if he actually listens.If you see this tweet, use the form below to contact Gov Stitt & encourage him to stop the wrongful execution of Julius Jones. ⬇️— Tavana Farzaneh (@tealteal123) November 1, 2021
Thank you @GovStitt & everyone who marched for @justice4julius today! The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board voted 3-1 to recommend clemency and to commute Julius’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole. The fight isn’t over and he needs to come home #JusticeForJulius🙏🏼— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 1, 2021
Al-Michael said he thinks people should step into the shoes of Jones' family, noting the difficult place they have been in for the past two decades as they await certainty in Jones' case.
“It is a wonderful time to believe right now because this is a man who had all of the odds stacked against him,” Al-Michael said. “If you cannot want (for) your brother what you have for yourself, then what do you really (have) anyway? t the end of the day, we have to realize that these are people.”
Jones was a student at OU before his conviction in 1999 and he has been in prison for over two decades. Al-Michael said, since his conviction, Jones has found ways to better himself.
“This is a Sooner,” Al-Michael said. “He is ... what the definition of what the Oklahoma Standard is supposed to look like. This state makes diamonds out of the rough because this place can get pretty rough sometimes.”