OKLAHOMA CITY — Less than 24 hours before Julius Jones’ scheduled execution, his family and supporters held an emotional press conference at the Capitol Wednesday in hopes the governor will spare his life.
Madeline Davis-Jones, Julius’ mother, gave an impassioned speech, banging on the podium and yelling into the microphone.
Davis-Jones had gone to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Wednesday, a meeting that could be her last with her son if the execution is not delayed or his sentence commuted. Davis-Jones said she was unable to hug or touch her son, as they were only permitted contact through a pane of glass.
“Today, I had high expectations to hug my son,” she said. “I saw him, but I've been seeing through a glass. A lot of people think I get to hug him, but I don't get to hug him. He's not this monster that people have portrayed him to be.”
While she did get to see her son, she said she has not been granted a meeting with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.
In 2002, Jones, a former University of Oklahoma engineering freshman, was convicted of the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell and sentenced to death. He has maintained his innocence since his conviction..
However, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and former state Attorney General Mike Hunter have said the evidence is overwhelming against Jones.
Davis-Jones said she is begging Stitt to halt the execution, scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, and give her son a “fair trial.” Stitt has not issued a statement about the execution.
The state, however, is making preparations for Thursday.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has barricaded some of the streets around the Governor’s Mansion. All state House offices will be closing at noon Thursday, with all non-essential personnel sent home.
On Tuesday, advocates for Jones who met with members of Stitt’s staff said they were told the governor is “secluded in prayer” and is leaning on his faith to show him what to do about Jones’ sentence. But one of Jones’ advocates said Wednesday the time for prayer is over.
“It is cruel that Gov. Kevin Stitt has put this man and this man's family through this,” Cece Jones-Davis, the campaign manager for Justice for Julius, said Wednesday. “If the governor is still praying, I'm going to pray about why. This governor has nothing to pray about — this governor has a decision to make. Life and death are laid before him, blessings and curses are laid before him — he has a decision to make, not a prayer to say, because God has already spoken, Oklahoma.”
Cece Jones-Davis said God answered the governor’s prayer on Sept. 13, when the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board initially recommended he commute Jones’ sentence. She said God answered his prayer again on Nov. 1, when the board recommended Stitt grant Jones clemency.
“God these days is not sending stuff out the sky — God is using everyday, ordinary people to accomplish His will on the earth,” Cece Jones-Davis said. “That's how God works.”
Jones’ supporters said his execution would be a modern-day lynching.
“Julius had tears running down his eyes yesterday,” said Rev. Keith Jossell, Jones’ spiritual advisor. “All he had for me was a question: ‘Why would they do this to me?’ I wasn’t there 100 years ago in Oklahoma (during) the Tulsa Race Massacre (when) they lynched African Americans, and 100 years later, it does not appear that Oklahoma has learned anything. This is an opportunity to try to start a new Oklahoma.”
Also on Wednesday, students from Oklahoma City high schools staged walkouts to show solidarity with Jones and to advocate for his life. Students from Northwest Classen, Classen SAS, Putnam City North, Harding Charter and John Marshall staged walkouts, and Classen SAS students made the nearly two-mile trek down 23rd Street to stand with other Jones supporters at the Capitol.
Echoes filled the Capitol rotunda as the students, supporters, family members and advocates sang worship songs, prayed and cried out for Stitt not to execute Jones.
“(Oklahoma City Public Schools) supports our students' rights to peaceful assembly and their freedom of expression,” the school district said in a statement Wednesday. “We have worked closely with students and student groups who wished to assemble today so we could provide them with a safe space to express themselves regarding an issue they are passionate about. Our top priority is always to support the academic and social and emotional needs of our students while maintaining a safe and orderly learning environment for all."
While Jones’ supporters rallied Wednesday, the Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Bigler Jobe Stouffer II, a death row inmate whose execution is scheduled for Dec. 9. Board members said they voted to recommend clemency not because they believe Stouffer is innocent, but because they believe Oklahoma’s method of execution is inhumane.
Board members spoke extensively about the state’s last execution, and how it was widely viewed as botched after media witnesses reported that John Marion Grant convulsed repeatedly and vomited during his execution.