Julius Jones’ life is in the hands of Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma.
Jones is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, and others inmates’ execution dates have been set. The inmates asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to step in, but the panel consisting of Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich and Judges Michael Murphy and Nancy Mortiz, declined last week.
“Appellants have already been sentenced to death, have exhausted their state-court and habeas remedies, and are scheduled to be executed,” the court wrote in the per curiam decision. “The purpose of this Section 1983 litigation is to decide whether the method used to execute them complies with the Constitution, not to prevent their executions altogether.
“It is true that a successful appeal would delay their executions until after the scheduled trial in district court,” the order continued. “And if the relief sought at that trial is granted, there may be further delay while the State adopts a different method of execution. But Appellants are not paying for their religious beliefs with theirs lives; at most they are forfeiting a delay in execution of a sentence that (separate from questions about methods) is constitutional in their case.”
The state’s parole board recently recommended that Jones’ life be spared and he instead serve life in prison without parole because of doubt that he killed a suburban Oklahoma City businessman in 1999, according to The Associated Press. Jones has maintained his innocence.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt declined the state parole board’s recommendation that he commute the death sentence and instead sentence Jones to life in prison without the possibility of parole, citing doubts as to Jones’ guilt, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
“I am not accepting the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation to commute the sentence of Julius Jones because a clemency hearing, not a commutation hearing, is the appropriate venue for our state to consider death row cases,” Stitt wrote to the parole board on Sept. 28. “Clemency hearings are more intensive and thorough than a commutation hearing and include the option for the inmate to speak publicly before the Pardon and Parole Board as well as victim’s family and attorneys from both sides.”
On Wednesday, one of Jones’ attorneys, Mark Barrett, said they were still waiting on a decision from the governor. The governor’s office could not be reached by phone or email on Wednesday.
Jones’ case drew widespread attention after it was profiled in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary that aired on ABC in 2018. His case has drawn attention from reality television stars like Kim Kardashian West and athletes with Oklahoma ties, including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, who have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life, the AP reported.
Pleas from celebrities and legal professionals continued to be made on Wednesday, asking the governor to call off Jones’ execution.
ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter, Jake Trotter, shared a video on Wednesday of quarterback Baker Mayfield tearing up about topic. Mayfield played college football in Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a senior.
“That’s not something that’s easy to talk about. I’ve been trying to get the facts stated and the truth to be told for a while, but it’s tough to think about,” Mayfield said in the video. “I’ve tried and tried. It’s a shame that it’s gotten this far—we’re 24 hours away.”
Kardashian West also took to Twitter early Tuesday.
“Julius, his family and everyone on his team are still hopeful Stitt will do the right thing,” she tweeted in a thread. ”Today Julius’ family and close friends received invites to his execution. I can’t even imagine how they all must be feeling right now.”
“#JuliusJones has been on death watch for more than 2 weeks,” she continued. “In preparation for his execution on Nov. 18, he is alone in his prison cell just feet away from the executioner’s chamber.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta has also encouraged people to call the governor’s office to stay Jones’ execution.
“There is only 1 DAY left to petition the execution of Julius Jones,” nationally recognized civil rights attorney Ben Crump tweeted. “This innocent man has lived on death row for almost 20 years for a crime he did not commit. Don’t let the state of Oklahoma execute Julius Jones! Contact Governor Stitt at 405.521.2341 and sign the petition.”
More than 6 million people have signed a Change.org petition to prevent Jones from being executed on Thursday.
On Friday, the circuit court said Judge Stephen Friot of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma didn’t abuse his discretion by concluding the inmates were unlikely to prevail on the merits of their claims while also affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction.
The circuit court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that requiring them to designate a method for their execution would “be tantamount to assisting in their own suicide,” which the inmates claimed would violate their religious beliefs.
Further, the court said the district court didn’t abuse its discretion in concluding that the appellants are not likely to succeed on their ex post facto and due process claims.
“It is well established that a procedural change in execution protocol does not violate the ex post facto clause because the penalty—death—remains the same,” the court wrote.
The following are the planned execution dates for the other plaintiffs: Stouffer on Dec. 9; Lay on Jan. 6; Donald Grant on Jan. 27; Postelle on Feb. 17; and Coddington on March 10.
On Aug. 26, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor filed a motion in the criminal appeals court seeking to execute seven men between Oct. 7 and Feb. 10.
John M. Grant was the first to be executed, bringing an end to a six-year execution moratorium following a series of flawed or attempted executions, dating back to the first using midazolam in 2014 with Clayton Lockett, according to the appellate court’s background in the case.
The Tenth Circuit previously granted Grant’s execution stay, but the U.S. Supreme Court lifted it, giving the clear for Grant’s execution on Oct. 28. The Death Penalty Information Center reported that eyewitnesses claimed Grant convulsed and vomited for nearly 15 minutes after receiving the first drug and the plaintiffs asked the circuit court to “take judicial note.”
“A key source they cite for this fact is a news article. We decline to take judicial notice of the article. Judicial notice of news articles may be appropriate for proof that a fact is publicly known, but not for the truth of the article’s other assertions,” Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich and Judges Michael Murphy and Nancy Moritz wrote in Friday’s filing, citing Est. of Lockett by & through Lockett v. Fallin, in which the court declined to take judicial notice of a description of an execution in a news article.
“To the extent they rely on other evidence concerning the execution, such as a statement by the Director of ODOC, we also decline to consider it. That evidence was not before the district court and is not part of our review of its findings,” the judges added.
Prior to Grant’s execution, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said it was prepared to resume the three-drug protocol execution proven to be “humane and effective.”
“The Department of Corrections has address concerns regarding carrying out the death penalty and is prepared to follow the will of the people of Oklahoma, as expressed in state statue, and the orders of the courts by carrying out the execution of inmates sentenced to death by a jury of their peers,” director Scott Crow said in a media release.
Messages for other attorneys involved in the case including, Adam Singer, Harry Cohen and Michael Robles of Crowell & Moring; federal public defenders Emma Rolls and Susan Otto; as well as the Oklahoma ACLU, were left and not returned.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office also did not respond to an inquiry seeking comment.