A death row inmate spared in extremis in the United States after a strong mobilization

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Less than four hours before the injection of a controversial lethal cocktail, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, under intense pressure, commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

“Julius Jones will not be able to ask for new commutations, pardon or conditional release until the end of his life,” he said, however, in a decree posted on the website of this conservative state and rural in the southern United States.

“We thank the governor for having prevented an irreparable error”, commented the lawyer of the condemned Amanda Bass in a press release, while noting to have “hoped” that he follows “entirely the recommendations of the office of the pardons”.

This office, highlighting doubts about Julius Jones’ guilt, had twice recommended commuting his sentence to life in prison and allowing him to apply for early release.

“I am so grateful to everyone who spoke out and helped save Julius. Thank you to the Pardons Office and Governor Stitt, ”tweeted reality TV star Kim Kardashian, one of the figures in the campaign for the convict.

“Cold machine”

Julius Jones was sentenced in 2002 to death for the murder of a white businessman, Paul Howell, which he has always denied. He claims to have been trapped by the perpetrator, to have been badly defended by his early lawyers, and to have been discriminated against at trial.

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His legal actions have all been dismissed and Mr Howell’s family, including his daughter, remain convinced of his guilt.

The flaws in the case have been the subject of a documentary series and a podcast, and tilted in its favor a section of opinion.

As the date set for his execution approaches, stars, sports champions and the European Union (EU) ambassador to the United States, but also six and a half million signatories of an internet petition , had asked Governor Stitt to intervene.

On Wednesday, hundreds of high school students walked out of their establishment in Oklahoma to protest and try to bend the governor. Protesters had also camped near his residence in recent nights, according to local channel Koco.

The governor finally announced his decision in extremis “after having prayed and examined the documents presented by all the parties”, according to a press release.

Vomiting

Beyond doubts about his guilt, the execution raised questions, because Julius Jones was to receive a lethal cocktail of three substances suspected of causing excruciating suffering.

Oklahoma resumed executions on October 28, after a six-year hiatus, using this controversial protocol. John Grant, a 60-year-old African-American, was shaken by vomiting and seizures after the first injection, reporters who witnessed the scene reported.

The prison services assured that there had been “no complication”, but several voices denounced a violation of the American Constitution, which prohibits “cruel sentences”.

The contested protocol combines a sedative, midazolam, and an anesthetic, believed to prevent pain before the lethal-dose potassium chloride injection. It had been used in 2014 to execute Clayton Lockett, but the convict had agonized for 43 minutes in apparent pain.

In 2015, another convict, Charles Warner, complained that his “body burned” before dying, the executioners having used a non-compliant product. The same error was almost reproduced in September 2015 and an execution was postponed at the last minute.

Following these failures, a grand jury opened an investigation and the authorities agreed to suspend the application of the death penalty. In 2020, they finalized a new protocol and set several execution dates in 2021.

Five executions remain scheduled in Oklahoma by March.

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