Following the postponement of Julius Jones’ clemency hearing to Nov. 1, about 50 Justice for Julius supporters gathered approximately a block away from the Oklahoma and Parole Board building on a cloudy Tuesday morning to demonstrate their continued hope.
Justice for Julius organizers proceeded with their plans to hold the vigil despite the postponement of Jones’ clemency hearing. State law dictates that a clemency hearing for a death row inmate must be scheduled no less than 21 days before their execution date. Jones’ execution is currently set for Nov. 18.
Julius Jones’ sister Antoinette Jones said the change in hearing date is “very concerning,” as the new date doesn’t fall in the legal window. Cece Jones-Davis, the Justice for Julius campaign director, said Julius Jones’ execution date will need to be rescheduled to comply with Oklahoma law.
“They know their statutes, they know their own laws,” Jones-Davis said. “They’re going to have to decide if they’re going to follow their own rules or not.”
On Sept. 13, the Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend commuting Jones’ sentence. Its recommendation was sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for review.
Stitt rejected the board’s decision Sept. 28, citing his belief that the precedent for individuals in Julius Jones’ place is a commutation hearing, not a clemency hearing.
A commutation hearing reduces a person’s sentence, either fully or partially, while clemency grants a person convicted of an offense “relief” from a sentence or punitive measure, according to the Center for American Progress. Only four death row inmates have received clemency in Oklahoma’s history.
Abraham Bonowitz serves as the director of Death Penalty Action, which assists “various local, state and national groups in their work to end the use of the death penalty,” according to its website. He said since the Pardon and Parole Board recommended commutation, he’d be “shocked” if Julius Jones doesn’t receive a recommendation of clemency.
Though Bonowitz said there’s no guarantee Stitt will act on that recommendation, he added if he’s “smart … he’ll save Julius Jones.”
Bonowitz said other executions in Oklahoma hinge on whether John Grant is executed. Grant was denied clemency and is scheduled to be the first person executed in Oklahoma since 2015 on Oct. 28.
On Oct. 25, Oklahoma judge Stephen Friot denied a stay of execution for five death row inmates, including Julius Jones and Grant. Attorneys for the inmates asked for the executions to be delayed due to a trial in February that questions whether Oklahoma’s execution protocol is constitutional.
The arguments made in the lawsuit are limited because they address the way executions are performed, not whether they should be performed, Bonowitz said.
Bonowitz pointed to a 2016 election where Oklahomans voted to write the death penalty into the state consitution. Though the measure passed, more than 30 percent of state residents voted against it and said Justice for Julius supporters must work to pull them into the movement.
Jones-Davis said although Stitt didn’t choose to act on the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation of a commutation, she’s hopeful he would act on a clemency recommendation.
“The governor has an enormous opportunity here to get it right. … We have to be optimistic that he can see this for what it is, and use his power and authority to send Julius home,” Jones-Davis said.
Marchers paused in the Evangelistic Baptist Church of Christ parking lot to lift their hands in prayer toward the Pardon and Parole Board building across the street, joining in chants of “I believe we will win, I know that we will win.”
Jones-Davis encouraged the crowd to praise God for the Justice for Julius movement’s successes, which includes over 6 million petitioners, according to the group’s website.
“God, we thank you that even though we have passed through the waters, your word has said that you would be with us, that the waters would not overtake us, that the waters have not overtaken Julius, the waters have not overtaken the Jones family,” Jones-Davis said. “And God, you have allowed us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. You have allowed us to walk through, Lord, and we fear no evil.”