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Julius Jones will go on ‘death watch’ on Friday as community members gather nightly to pray that Governor Stitt will grant him clemency.  Supporters from around the state will gather at the South Oval of the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman on Friday at noon to pray for Jones.

Recently, rain had just started to fall as a circle of community members gathered in Tulsa’s Reconciliation Park. In a space dedicated to the remembrance and resilience of Black Wall Street after the 1921 massacre, an intergenerational group asked for divine intervention in the face of injustice. Every night for several weeks, community members have gathered like this across the state to hold prayer vigils for Julius Jones.

Julius Jones Prayer Vigil
Community members gather at Reconciliation Park in Tulsa, OK on Tuesday, October 12th to pray for Julius Jones (Nate Morris / The Black Wall Street Times)

The State convicted Jones of killing Edmond resident Paul Howell in 1999. He has been on death row for 22 years. Just 19 years old at the time of his arrest, Jones has always maintained his innocence. In the years since his conviction, mounting evidence has pointed to racial bias and prosecutorial misconduct.  The state’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Jones after reviewing this evidence.  In spite of this, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has yet to take action. Jones is scheduled to be executed on November 18th.

While Oklahomans across the state continue to plead with Gov. Stitt to grant clemency, many are appealing to a higher power.

One Tulsa pastor on Tuesday prayed for the hearts of those “in places of high power to make these decisions”.

“Father God,” they prayed, “trouble their heart and let their heart not rest until the right thing is done.”

Citizens gather nightly to pray as state places Julius Jones on ‘Death Watch’ on Oct. 15

Similar vigils are taking place across the state all week ahead of Julius being placed on “death watch” this Friday. Oklahoma places inmate on “death watch” thirty five days before their execution date. Prison officials moves the individual to a different cell and remove all their personal belongings. Guards monitor those on “death watch” around the clock and only allow them access to religious and legal reading material.

At 6 p.m. every night this week, community members in Tulsa have gathered at Reconciliation Park, while those in OKC have gathered at the Oklahoma History Center.

In Norman, the Black Emergency Response Team (BERT) at the University of Oklahoma is holding a candlelight vigil on Friday afternoon for Julius Jones. 

Friday’s statewide event, dubbed a “Freedom Vigil”, will give community members the opportunity to hold space for moments of reflection.

Another vigil is taking place October 17th at 3:30pm in McAlester, near the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Governor Stitt yet to act as Julius’s life rests in his hands

While the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recently recommended that Mr. Jones’ receive a commuted sentence to life with the possibility of parole, Governor Kevin Stitt has not used his power to intervene.  The Governor has indicated he will wait until after Jones’s clemency hearing, scheduled for Oct. 26. Advocates for Jones, however, are voicing concerns about efforts by District Attorney David Prater and other state officials to silence board members who voted to recommend clemency in September.

At the vigil on Tuesday in Tulsa, a crowd of roughly a dozen people silently bowed their heads in reverence. As the rain started to fall, James Olsen offered one final prayer that the governor would grant clemency.

“God, we pray that you would give [Governor Stitt] a vision that would shake him and cause him to stand up for right,” Olsen said.

“Lord we know that this is a defining moment in his life. Not just in his career, but in his life. And God, we ask that he would do the right thing.”

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...

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