The question of whether death row inmate Julius Jones should live or die is now ultimately up to Gov. Kevin Stitt.
In his first year in office, Stitt signed more than 750 commutations, setting a state record. However, none as high profile as the case currently heading to his desk.
A commutation isn't a statement of whether an inmate is guilty or innocent. Instead, it's intended to correct an unjust of excessive sentence. In this case, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, appointed by Stitt, found the death penalty was too severe of a punishment for the 1999 first-degree murder of Paul Howell.
Even with the pardon and parole board's 3-to-1 recommendation, the only person who can take Jones off death row is Stitt and he has a few options.
The governor can accept or deny the board's recommendation of life in prison with the possibility of parole or grant life without the possibility of parole.
At the time of Howell's murder, a person sentenced to life in prison became eligible for parole after serving 15 years. Even though the law has changed, District Attorney David Prater said if approved by the governor, Jones would immediately be eligible to apply for parole under the old law.
Unlike a pardon or parole recommendation, there isn't a timeline for the governor to respond to the board’s recommendation. The attorney general has asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to set an execution date for Jones of either November 18 or December 9.
If the governor fails to act before the time of execution, Jones will be put to death. The governor is not required to give a reason for his decision.
“The governor takes his role in this process seriously and will carefully consider the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation as he does in all cases. We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision,” Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said in a statement.
According to Oklahoma City University Law Professor Maria Kolar, only four death row inmates have ever been granted clemency in the state of Oklahoma.
“But we are in a different time,” Kolar said. “The pardon and parole board has been much more active than it has been historically when it comes to granting parole and commutation but not a death sentence before this.”