OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt stopped the execution of death row inmate Julius Jones on Thursday, commuting his death sentence.
The decision came four hours before Jones's scheduled lethal injection.
“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," Stitt said in a statement around 12 p.m.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board twice recommended sparing Jones's life, most recently recommending clemency at a hearing on Nov. 1.
Crowds in Oklahoma City continued their protests on Thursday, calling on Stitt to follow the recommendation for clemency from the state's Pardon and Parole Board.
Authorities arrested one person protesting outside the Governor's Mansion.
Oklahoma City police began placing barriers around the mansion on Tuesday afternoon as people simultaneously gathered outside his office at the Capitol in support of Jones.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol put plans in place for heightened security around the Capitol and Governor's Mansion ahead of potential protests in response to the decision.
Jones's mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, visited the Capitol along with supporters all week
"Don't be sorry, be sure," Davis-Jones said as the execution came within 24 hours.
Jones, 41, will now serve life in prison without a chance at parole after his conviction in the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones says he is innocent and that he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and co-defendant who testified against Jones and was released from prison after 15 years.
State and county prosecutors have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming. Trial transcripts show a witness identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon and a bandana with Jones’s DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claims the murder weapon was placed there by the actual killer, who visited Jones’s house after Howell was shot.
Thursday's execution would have been the second since the state ended its moratorium following multiple botched executions several years ago.
The state executed John Marion Grant on Oct. 28 in a procedure that the state says had no issues, but saw Grant convulse and vomit in the process.
Jones's case had drawn attention from social media influences and sports stars like Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook and Kim Kardashian West — all calling for his life to be spared.
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