Board Recommends Man Advocated for by Kim Kardashian, Trae Young Have Death Sentence Commuted

Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board on Monday recommended the governor commute the death sentence of a man who has been advocated for by celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Trae Young.

Julius Jones was sentenced to death in a 1999 killing that gained national attention. Jones has maintained his innocence in the case, which was profiled in a three-episode documentary, The Last Defense, produced by actress Viola Davis and aired on ABC in 2018.

Since then, Kardashian West, Young and other athletes, including Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin, have advocated for Jones, urging Republican Governor Kevin Stitt to commute the death sentence.

"Personally, I believe in death penalty cases there should be no doubts. And put simply, I have doubts about this case," said Chairman Adam Luck, an appointee of Stitt's who voted to commute the sentence.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Kim Kardashian West
Kim Kardashian West and Trae Young are among celebrities who have advocated for Julius Jones' death sentence to be commuted, urging Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt to spare his life. Kardashian West of 'The Justice Project' speaks onstage during the 2020 Winter TCA Tour Day 12 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on Jan. 18, 2020, in Pasadena, California. David Livingston/Getty Images

The five-member board voted 3-1 to recommend Jones' sentence be commuted to life in prison after board member Scott Williams recused himself because of a professional relationship he had with one of the attorneys who spoke on Jones' behalf. Stitt ultimately will decide the fate of Jones, who claims he was framed for the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.

Monday's vote came after several hours of testimony from members of Howell's family, prosecutors who tried the case, and attorneys and supporters of Jones.

Kelly Doyle, another Stitt appointee who voted in favor of commuting Jones' sentence, said she agreed with Luck and noted there were mitigating factors she considered, including the fact that Jones, now 41, was 19 when Howell was killed during a carjacking.

Former District Attorney Richard Smothermon, another Stitt appointee, cast the lone no vote.

Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said the governor plans to review the board's recommendation carefully.

"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," Atchison said in a statement. "We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision."

The board's vote does not ensure Jones' sentence will be commuted. Stitt's predecessor, Republican Governor Mary Fallin, rejected three separate recommendations for clemency for death row inmates from the board. The last time a governor granted clemency to a death row inmate was Democrat Brad Henry in 2010.

Jones alleges he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and former co-defendant who was a key witness against him. But Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and the state's former attorney general, Mike Hunter, have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming.

Information from trial transcripts shows that witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell's stolen vehicle. Investigators also found the murder weapon and a bandana with Jones' DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his commutation filing that the gun and bandana were planted there by the actual killer.

Howell's sister and two young daughters — one of whom testified Monday — were in Howell's SUV when the carjacking happened in his parents' driveway in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond.

"I was there when my brother Paul Howell was murdered," Howell's sister, Megan Tobey, told the board. "I know beyond a doubt that Julius Jones murdered my brother."

Tobey said the killer also ran over Howell, crushing his legs, as he sped away.

"My parents never got over the death of their youngest son," Tobey said. "They never got closure and they were never truly happy again."

Julius Jones
Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board on Monday, September 13, 2021, recommended the governor commute the death sentence of convicted killer Julius Jones, who has maintained his innocence in a case that has garnered national attention. This February 5, 2018, file photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Jones. Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File