On Thursday, death row inmate Julius Jones has had his sentence commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole just hours before he was set to be executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the 1999 murder of 45-year-old Paul Howell—a crime Jones spent more than two decades maintaining his innocence of.
The decision came after celebrities like Kim Kardashian and J Cole joined family members of Jones and others in the Oklahoma community and beyond in calling for the now-41-year-old’s death sentence to be commuted amid the surfacing of mounting evidence of his innocence, much of which was highlighted in the 2018 ABC docuseries “The Last Defense.” But according to Jones’ sister and long-time friend, stopping the state from executing Jones was only one step in a larger fight to see him set free and cleared of wrongdoing in Howell’s death.
“We were overjoyed,” Antoinette Jones, Julius’ sister, told CNN. “We still have to get his freedom.”
Jones’ best friend, Jimmy Lawson, echoed Antoinette’s sentiments saying on Friday that “yesterday was an amazing feeling. When you think about how close we came to the finish line, it’s unbelievable.”
As for the possibility of Jones being exonerated of Howell’s murder, Antoinette said she isn’t sure what legal paths she can embark on to set her brother free, but she’ll be relying on the advice from her attorneys to figure it out. The point is, she has no plans in giving up that fight.
“We gotta keep pressing forward to correct the different ways that have hindered Julius from true justice,” she said.
Jones being sentenced to life in prison for a murder he very well may not have committed isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to feel like justice to Black people who are tired of seeing Black people railroaded and falling victim to a demonstrably racist criminal justice system, but at least he will live to continue his fight.