Many folks around the globe were expressed relief Thursday, when Oklahoma’s Republican governor Kevin Stitt, perhaps heeding the findings of the state parole board, decided to spare Julius Jones the barbaric spectacle of the death penalty.
Though some might presume the governor, in the final hours before the scheduled execution, summoned a smidgen of humanity, it’s might be conceivable that he was influenced by considerable pressure from high-profile international figures in sports, politics and entertainment.
Among those expressing support for Jones and urging that he not be executed is Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who took temporary satisfaction in the decision to commute the sentence to life in prison.
“Given the doubts about his guilt, it was an absolute must to eliminate the possibility of execution,” Kerr told reporters in Cleveland shortly before tipoff against the Cavaliers. “If you live in a civilized country, that should be the norm.”
It was three weeks ago, when the Warriors were in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder, that Kerr and superstar guard Stephen Curry were introduced to members of the Jones family by Bay Area pastor Michael McBride.
Kerr on Wednesday ended his seven-month Twitter abstinence, posting a 76-second video plea on behalf of Jones and his family.
Among the sports figures joining Kerr and Curry in speaking out against execution are NBA stars Blake Griffin and Trae Young, both of whom were stars at the University of Oklahoma; former Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook; NFL quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, who was among those who wrote letters to the Gov. Stitt.
In addition to such celebrities as actresses Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, actor Mandy Patinkin, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, the governor also received letters from numerous governments around the world.
Jones, 41, was on death row for 19 years after being sentenced for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, who was shot during a carjacking. Jones is a Black man, Howell a white man.
The case, from the beginning, has been rife with racial disparities in a state where cases involving 38 people have been overturned since 1990. One juror reportedly used a racial slur in the jury room. A police officer allegedly used a racial slur when arresting Jones.
One of Jones’ attorneys – not on the case in the original trial – says a co-defendant confessed to the shooting. In addition, Jones did not match the description of the killer. The legal team continues to pursue full exoneration.
Because there is evidence that possibly could exonerate Jones, he has been the subject of a documentary and has received a groundswell of support. More than six million in the United States and beyond had signed the “Justice of Julius” petition.
Despite the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voting on Nov. 1 to recommend granting clemency to Jones, Stitt did not make an announcement until Thursday, with hundreds of Jones’ supporters gathered outside his mansion.
“Hopefully, at some point, there will be a return to address some of the details and facts in the case,” Kerr said. “We’ll see where it all goes.
“But I’m very happy. A lot of people put in a lot of work to save his life.”