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This article has been updated with a denied request for comment from the Office of Governor Kevin Stitt. A day after the Tulsa World announced Gov. Stitt had approved the release of Jimmie Dean Stohler, Gov. Stitt reversed the decision following backlash from people across the political spectrum.
Drawing disgust from both criminal justice advocates and tough-on-crime conservatives, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) has approved the release of an ex-cop serving a life sentence for murdering a woman with a poison-tipped crossbow, the Tulsa World reported on Wednesday.
Yet, after facing a mountain of backlash from people across the political spectrum, Gov. Stitt reversed his decision, citing new information that he claims wasn’t previously made available to him, News 6 reported on Thursday.
Yet Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler disputed that claim, according to statements he made to Public Radio Tulsa’s Chris Polansky.
““The same information we argued before the parole board was the exact same information we presented to the governor’s office,” DA Kunzweiler told Polansky.
Tulsa Co DA Steve Kunzweiler tells me he’s “at a loss” re what @GovStitt’s office means when they say Kunzweiler provided “new information” on Thurs.
“The same information we argued before the parole board was the exact same information we presented to the governor’s office.” https://t.co/Poco4vL32I
— Chris Polansky (@ChrisKPolansky) April 29, 2022
Meanwhile, Julius Jones continues to languish in an Oklahoma prison. He narrowly avoided a death sentence in 2021 and has maintained his innocence for over 20 years.
“The question is, how? How does Governor Stitt release Jimmie Dean Stohler and not Julius Jones? How does a stalker who killed a woman with a poisoned arrow walk free, and an innocent man still sits in prison in Oklahoma,” Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, leader of the Julius Jones Coalition, said in a statement shared with The Black Wall Street Times.
“I know how. It’s because Stohler is a white ex-police officer and Julius is a young Black man. This injustice cannot stand,” she added.
In what a Tulsa County attorney described as a “gruesome way to die,” a jury convicted former Tulsa Police Officer Jimmie Dean Stohler, 69, of first-degree murder of 30-year-old Michele Rae Powers in 1982. Powers was an ex-girlfriend of Stohler’s best friend Robert Doss, a former fellow Tulsa police officer.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to the Governor’s office for comment. His office declined to provide a statement.
His office did, however, respond to other news outlets.
“Jimmie Dean Stohler’s parole application came to the governor after a 4-0 recommendation from the Pardon and Parole Board in favor of paroling Mr. Stohler to the street. Governor Stitt accepted the recommendation,” Stitt Spokesperson Charlie Hannema said in a statement shared with 2 News.
Governor Stitt releases gruesome killer ex-cop, keeps Julius Jones locked up
After Powers had scored a victory in her court battle for custody over then-four-year-old daughter, she said she feared for her life, according to the Tulsa World.
On a night in January 1982, Powers was leaving her job as a respiratory therapist at a Tulsa hospital. A group of men ambushed her and paralyzed her with a nerve agent. The former officers had plotted her murder.
“The use of a poison-tipped arrow — a nerve agent, mainly used for hunting — it paralyzed her entire body, and she lived for several more days with virtually no use of her physical functions. It’s got to be a gruesome way to die,” Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney John Tjeerdsma said.
News of Governor Stitt’s approval of release for Stohler, which he signed off on without notifying the victim’s family, comes as he faces heat from all sides of the political spectrum.
Governor Stitt under fire
Social justice advocates remain furious that Governor Stitt has ruled for Julius Jones to remain in prison for life, despite evidence of innocence and millions of supporters. Stitt has also drawn backlash from conservative hardliners eager to pounce on his 2019 mass commutations of hundreds of prisoners in a state with one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world.
Not to mention, Indigenous leaders of the Five Tribes, whose reservations and sovereignty were reaffirmed with the 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma U.S. Supreme Court decision, continue to push back against his attempts to retake authority that was never legally the state of Oklahoma’s to take.
For the Julius Jones family, the move to release killer ex-cop Stohler reflects a glaring display of hypocritical injustice. It comes after the governor signed an executive order requiring Jones to remain in prison for life.
“We have been asking the Governor for years now to meet with us, to see us, and to hear from us about Julius’s innocence. I just don’t understand this. It continues to seem like we are invisible. But my son deserves to be seen,” Madeline “Mama” Jones said. “He is a human being, and this just feels so wrong. This is my baby, and he is continuing to suffer injustice.”
Oklahomans haven’t forgotten governor’s actions
Black people are much more likely to face the death penalty in Oklahoma than White Oklahomans, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. And escaping death row was once considered nearly impossible in the state.
Yet, Julius Jones managed to secure two votes in support of a commuted sentence to life with the possibility of parole from the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, unprecedented moves. In the last few hours ahead of the scheduled November 18, 2021 execution, Gov Stitt called off the state-sanctioned murder, a last-minute decision many considered to be cowardly.
Despite racial bias in his case, an ineffective counsel, an alibi that was never brought up in court, and a signed affidavit from another inmate saying someone else confessed to the murder, Julius Jones was forced to undergo his last meal and all the preparations a death row detainee would be forced to make on his last weeks, days and hours.
Gov. Stitt said he was busy consulting God in prayer.
The first-term governor also apparently couldn’t be bothered with the simple act of accepting a letter from Julius Jones’ mother a few days of ahead of the scheduled execution. Stitt allowed his communications director to shut the door in “Mama” Jones’ face instead at the Oklahoma Capitol.
“I am going to keep praying that the Governor will give Julius back to us. He has shown us all today that he has some compassion,” Antoinette Jones, Julius Jones’ sister, said.
“We implore Governor Stitt to share his compassion with Julius, with us—his family, and accept his Board’s recommendation. We appreciate everyone’s continued prayers and support. We believe in a mighty God, a God of love and truth. And we know that one day, God will deliver my brother from the injustice of this wrongful conviction.”
Julius Jones also released a statement.
“I don’t have a problem with someone being released from prison, especially if they’ve changed, and I hope that’s the case. I am glad Mr. Stohler will be able to experience freedom after 37 years. I don’t believe in life without the possibility of parole. It’s just the death penalty by another name.
‘But I hope people will also see that someone guilty of a truly heinous crime and who was a police officer—charged with protecting the public—is getting out, while I continue to be caged within. I am actually innocent.
‘Twice, I received a recommendation from the board for life with the possibility of parole. But yet still here I sit, suffering under a new death sentence. This ain’t right.”