OKLAHOMA CITY (NewsNation Now) — Family members of a businessman who was shot and killed during a carjacking in 1999 say they “take comfort” in the way Oklahoma’s governor’s decided to spare the life of the man convicted in his murder.
“We know Governor Stitt had a difficult decision to make,” Paul Howell’s family said in part of a statement Thursday. “We take comfort that his decision affirmed the guilt of Julius Jones and that he shall not be eligible to apply for, or be considered for, a commutation, pardon or parole for the remainder of his life.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the 41-year-old Jones’ death sentence to life imprisonment.
“I don’t think they I’ve never heard them say ‘we hope he’s killed today’,” Jennifer Harmon, an advocate for the Howell family, said on “NewsNation Prime.” “I mean, I think that they’ve just expressed a desire to have this end.”
Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, and two young daughters were in Howell’s SUV when the carjacking happened in his parents’ driveway. Tobey testified before the board that she saw Jones shoot her brother.
“Julius Jones forever changed our lives and the lives of his family and friends,” the family’s Thursday statement said.
Harmon said she hadn’t spoken to the family Thursday evening, but believes they feel relieved.
They’re happy “that they don’t have to go back to a commutation hearing and have to be exposed and retraumatized,” Harmon said.
Meanwhile, supporters of Jones were celebrating the decision Thursday.
“Saving Julius Jones’ life today is an absolute miracle and an absolute win,” Jimmy Lawson, a longtime friend of Julius Jones, said on “NewsNation Prime.”
Jones alleges he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and co-defendant who was a key witness against him. He and his family maintain he was at home the night of Howell’s murder, eating dinner and playing games with his siblings, and that the jury never heard this information at trial.
Lawson says he knows where Jones was the night Howell was murdered. He spoke with him Wednesday, the day before he was scheduled to be executed.
“He said, ‘You know what, my heart and prayers goes out to the Howell family. They lost a family member. I am very saddened that Mr. Howell lost his life,” ” Lawson said. “However, he has always stated that he was not the one who committed the murder.”
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 wrapped in a bandanna with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom. Jones claimed in his commutation filing that the gun and bandanna were planted there by the actual killer, who visited Jones’ house after the killing.
The profile of Jones’ case grew significantly after it was featured in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. After that, reality television star Kim Kardashian West and other professional athletes with Oklahoma ties, including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, and NFL quarterback Baker Mayfield, urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life.
“I don’t think they ever expected to have to deal with this, with a public advocating without having any understanding of the case transcripts,” Harmon said. “That’s really been stupefying for a lot of people.”
Harmon began supporting families of victims after her neighbor was murdered in 2011.
“What helps the families is to know that the public is informed,” Harmon said. “So if you’re going to take a position that somebody is actually innocent, read the case transcripts before you just hop on a bandwagon, because what you’re really doing is dishonoring the victim of a crime, if you’re not familiar with the case. Don’t advocate for something that you know nothing about.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.