OKLAHOMA CITY — High-profile inmate Julius Jones was given another chance to get off death row Monday after maintaining his innocence to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.  

Jones, 41 years of age, faces execution in connection to the fatal shooting of Paul Howell (insurance executive) during a 1999 carjacking at Edmond, Oklahoma City. In 2002, jury members chose death as the punishment.

His execution date has been set for November 18.

“First, I feel for the Howell family, for the tragic loss of Mr. Paul Howell, who I’ve heard was a caring and all-around good person,” Jones said by videoconference. “Second, I am not the person responsible for taking Mr. Howell’s life.”

Jones was granted clemency by the board with a vote of 3-1. Board members recommended his sentence be reduced to life with the possibility of parole. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma Governor, will make final decisions about Jones’s future. 

“Governor Stitt is aware of the Pardon and Parole Board’s vote today,” Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said in a statement. “Our office will not offer further comment until the governor has made a final decision.”

Stitt’s predecessor, fellow Republican Gov. Mary Fallin rejected three different recommendations for clemency to people on death row. Brad Henry, Democrat was the last governor to grant clemency for someone on death row.

Jones, who was 19 at the time of his arrest, claims he is innocent and was framed by the actual killer. His case has attracted support from celebrities and well-known athletes. 

See also:Oklahoma parole board recommends the commutation Julius Jones’ death sentence

Learn more:Oklahoma executes first lethal injection in 2015 for prisoner murder

Millions of people signed petitions in Jones’ favor after ABC 2018 broadcast “The Last Defense,” an ABC documentary on Jones’ innocence. Kim Kardashian was one of his supporters, and she visited him at McAlester’s Oklahoma State Penitentiary last year.

Jones, based on the time already spent in prison, would qualify for parole as soon as he is granted clemency. Amanda C. Bass, an assistant federal public defender representing Jones, told the board Jones is “facing execution in two weeks for a crime he did not commit.” 

Bass blamed Jones’ conviction and death sentence on systemic racism, under-resourced and inexperienced public defenders and prosecutorial misconduct. 

Jones didn’t match an eyewitness description and was home when the murder took place, Bass told the board.  

Jones was just 19 years old at the time Jones was taken into custody. He claimed he was innocent.

Seated next to his lawyer Monday at a table in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Jones was dressed in a dark red prison uniform as he read from a prepared statement. 

“I was not involved in the planning of this robbery, I was not present during this robbery, and I did not know that anyone had been killed until the day after Mr. Howell’s murder,” Jones said. 

An October state investigator informed the Pardon and Parole Board Jones used his notoriety to gain financial gains through prison business calls that focused on marketing and branding concepts. 

Jones claimed that Howell died while Jones was home at his family’s house, although Jones said that Jones had previously stated that to his lawyers.

“Jones repeatedly and unequivocally told his attorneys that his parents were mistaken and that he was not at home the night of the murder,” said Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Crabb.

Julius Jones, shown at his 2002 sentencing

Christopher Jordan was Jones’s friend at the time of Jones’ fatal shooting. Jordan, his friend and plea bargainer, pleaded guilty in a plea deal to first-degree murder as well as conspiracy to commit a crime of robbery. He was sentenced at 30 years imprisonment.

Jones claimed Jordan was the real killer, and set him up to make a deal.

Trial transcripts show witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon and a bandanna with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his commutation that the actual murderer planted the weapon and bandanna there.

But Bass, said his criminal trial was corrupted by the use of junk forensic science, jailhouse informants and a plea deal for the co-defendant who testified against him.

“In these ways and more, the criminal justice system failed Mr. Howell,” Bass said. “It also failed Julius by condemning him to death for something he did not do.”

Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, testified before the board that she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother in front of his two young daughters.

“He is the same person today as he was 22 years ago. He’s still getting into trouble. He’s still in a gang. He’s still lying. And he still feels no shame, guilt or remorse for his action,” Tobey said. “We need Julius Jones to be held responsible.”

USA TODAY NetworkA timeline showing the case of Julius Jones, from a murder conviction to his requests for a commuted execution.

Julius Jones case:Oklahoma AG charges two members of the parole board with bias and wants them to be released from clemency hearing

The board’s vote Monday came less than a week after the state executed its first prisoner in more than six years. John Marion Grant was executed in Oklahoma State Penitentiary as a murderer. 

Grant, a 1998 prisoner for armed robbery, fatally attacked Gay Carter, 58 years old with a sharpened screwdriver in Hominy’s kitchen. 

After Grant and Jones had been granted stays by the U.S. 10th U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court permitted Jones’ execution. Circuit Court of Appeals, Denver.  The high court’s 5-3 decision potentially cleared the way for several executions in the next few months.

Before Grant was put to death, Oklahoma’s most recent scheduled execution was Sept. 30, 2015. Authorities stopped that execution after a doctor discovered the wrong deadly drug — potassium acetate — had been supplied. Officials later stated that the same mistake was made during January’s execution. 

Contribution: The Associated Press

Source: USAToday.com

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