OKLAHOMA CITY (NewsNation Now) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones’ sentence to life without the possibility of parole hours before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday.

Gov. Stitt released the following statement regarding his decision:

“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”

Jones had proclaimed his innocence from death row for more than two decades in the 1999 killing of a suburban Oklahoma City businessman, Paul Howell.

Howell’s family released a statement Thursday expressing their mixed reactions to Stitt’s decision.

We know Governor Stitt had a difficult decision to make. 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.

We would like to thank the countless people in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies across the state for their tireless efforts and unwavering support for the last 22 years.

Julius Jones forever changed our lives and the lives of his family and friends.

Howell Family

The state’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended in a 3-1 vote on Nov. 1 that Stitt commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison, with several members of the panel agreeing they had doubts about the evidence that led to Jones’ conviction.

Attorneys for Jones filed a last-minute, emergency request Thursday afternoon seeking a temporary stop to his execution. The request said Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures post a “serious and substantial risk of severe suffering and pain to prisoners” and cited last month’s execution in which John Marion Grant convulsed and vomited as he was being put to death.

“This motion is being filed now admittedly on the day of Julius Jones’s execution. Nonetheless, it is timely under circumstances where the Governor has not acted on the clemency recommendation that, if accepted, would have obviated the need for this motion being filed seeking emergency relief today as it relates to Julius Jones.”

Jones, 41, was convicted in the shooting death of Paul Howell, a father in the affluent Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, during a carjacking. Jones maintains he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and co-defendant who testified against him and was released from prison after 15 years.

Jones’ mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, who tried unsuccessfully to meet with Stitt on Monday, spoke to a group of about 300 people, many of them students from nearby high schools, who gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday outside Stitt’s office, chanted and sang hymns.

“I don’t want to go to a lynching tomorrow,” Davis-Jones said, her voice rising with emotion. “Why would I want to see someone hang? We should be through with that. Do you want your baby, your child to be hanged?”

Stitt had been tight-lipped about the case, but has met with Jones’ attorneys and Howell’s family.

State and county prosecutors said the evidence against Jones was overwhelming. Trial transcripts showed 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 claims the murder weapon was placed there by the actual killer, who visited Jones’ house after Howell was shot.

Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, testified before the board that she distinctly remembers seeing Jones shoot her brother in front of his two young daughters.

“He is the same person today as he was 22 years ago. He’s still getting into trouble,” Tobey said in part. “He’s still lying. And he still feels no shame, guilt or remorse for his action. We need Julius Jones to be held responsible.”

Jones’ case was profiled in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. Since then, Kim Kardashian West and athletes with Oklahoma ties, including Mayfield and NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence.

Oklahoma ended a six-year moratorium on executions — brought on by concerns over its lethal injection methods — last month. John Marion Grant, 60, convulsed and vomited as he was being put to death Oct. 28. Jones’ execution would be the second since the moratorium was lifted.

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