It looks as though Gov. Stitt will need to decide this week about whether to follow the recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board and grant clemency to Julius Jones who was convicted of murder in Oklahoma County and sentenced to death. Seldom does one person have the ability, purely as a matter of forbearance, to spare the life of another human being. This may be one of those things Stitt never anticipated when he decided he wanted to be governor. Unless he chooses to say — and perhaps even if he does say something — no one may ever know the true basis for his decision. Executive clemency is solely his call.
An unusual circumstance of the Jones case is the request of five Republican House members who are urging Stitt to grant clemency. In the law-and-order atmosphere that exists in the moment, it takes some courage for them to speak out. It’s unlikely they’ll gain any political advantage for their actions.
Reps. Garry Mize and Preston Stinson both represent the Edmond area where the crime was committed, and Stillwater Rep. John Talley’s district extends nearby. All three have doubts, based on concerns from constituents and other information, about whether the judge, jury, and appellate system got it right. Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, has also taken the time to look into the case and is worried that the state may be executing an innocent man.
Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, while stopping short of opposing the death penalty outright, is concerned with the way it is applied. McDugle authored House Bill 1551 last session that would authorize the Pardon and Parole Board to establish a Conviction Integrity Review Unit to review convictions of inmates who have received death sentences. The unit would make one last ditch effort to investigate cases where a person sentenced to death is making a plausible claim of actual innocence supported by information or evidence not previously presented and capable of being investigated or resolved. The bill failed to get a floor hearing in the House but is still available to be heard next session.
Rep. Stinson probably made the purest argument for mercy. “Paul Howell’s murder was a terrible tragedy for his family and this entire community,” Stinson said. “More than two decades later, however, I have many constituents who still have questions. Our judicial system gives judges and juries the responsibility to determine guilt and sentencing. However, the Pardon and Parole Board also plays a role in this system, and in this case, they have recommended clemency. For that reason, I am asking Gov. Stitt to take him off of death row and accept the recommendation of his Pardon and Parole Board.”