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The tone was somber and the message clear at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday as people directly impacted by the death penalty called on Governor Stitt to hit the pause button on executions.
With thousands of signatures asking for the governor to place a moratorium on the death penalty, Antoinette Jones of the Julius Jones Coalition and Herman Lindsey of Witness to Innocence led the crowd as they delivered the petition to the Governor’s Office.
Death Penalty Action, Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, and Catholic Mobilizing Network also co-sponsored the event.
Petitioners delivered the document to the Governor at his office on the 2nd floor of the Oklahoma State Capitol Building before delivering a press conference on the 2nd floor rotunda.
People directly impacted by death penalty deliver petition to Governor
Antoinette Jones is the sister of Julius Jones, who narrowly escaped his execution in November amid evidence of his innocence. Herman Lindsey, who traveled from out of state to support the petition, was exonerated from death row in Florida in 2009 after judges ruled he never should’ve been convicted for the crime.
Charged in 2006 after a new detective reopened a cold case, Lindsey said evidence against him was fabricated in order to get a conviction.
“In 2009, on direct appeal, my case became the first case in the history of the state of Florida where all [Florida Supreme Court] judges ruled I should’ve never even been convicted,” Lindsey told The Black Wall Street Times.
Governor Stitt’s absence didn’t deter organizers from peacefully taking up space to demand an end to state-sanctioned killings.
Marking the 20th annual “World Day Against the Death Penalty,” Antoinette Jones detailed the rampant flaws flowing from the death penalty in front of media on Monday.
“Around this time last year, my family was going through unimaginable emotions as Oklahoma set plans to execute my brother, Julius Jones,” Antoinette said, holding back tears.
Flaws in the death penalty as 24 people are scheduled for execution in Oklahoma
Despite evidence of ineffective counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, a racist juror, and testimony of another man’s confession, Julius Jones spent over 20 years on Oklahoma’s death row before narrowly escaping his execution.
Amid international support, school walkouts, and years of activism, Governor Stitt waited four hours until the scheduled execution before he commuted Jones’ sentence to life without parole. While the Jones family remains happy that his life was spared, they continue to push for Jones’ innocence and release.
Since Julius Jones was moved from death row, Oklahoma has gone on to execute three more men, with 24 more people currently scheduled to die over the next two years.
“We’re calling on our Governor Stitt to stop this death machine, to show mercy to the individuals currently on death row. We want to live in a state that finds solutions rather than killing,” Antoinette Jones said.
Notably, cracks in support for the death penalty have begun to show in Oklahoma, even among conservative Republican politicians. In light of cases like those of Julius Jones and Richard Glossip, lawmakers have become increasingly vocal about the need to either ensure no one killed is innocent, or end the practice all together.
“My belief is this: I don’t care who it is, we cannot put somebody to death if there is doubt,” Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Wagoner) told The Black Wall Street Times last year.
2017 study shows flaws in the death penalty
Oklahoma has placed a halt on executions in the past. After a string of failures– Clayton Locket suffered a heart attack for 45 minutes in 2014, Charles Warner was given the wrong drugs in 2015, and Richard Glossip was nearly executed with the wrong drugs- former Governor Mary Fallin placed a moratorium on the death penalty until the Department of Corrections could ensure no mistakes.
“Due to the volume and seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma’s capital punishment system, Commission members recommend that the moratorium on executions be extended until significant reforms are accomplished,” the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission stated in a 2017 report.
“That is not of God,” Antoinette Jones told The Black Wall Street Times on Monday of the state’s efforts to execute men who hold severe mental health issues or reasonable doubt. “It’s evil.”
As the state prepares for its next execution, Benjamin Cole on October 20, anti-death penalty organizers are urging Oklahomans use the power of their voice.
People in the state “need to be more vocal” in calling out the death penalty, Rev. Cece Jones-Davis of the Julius Jones Coalition told The Black Wall Street Times on Monday.
“This practice continues because Oklahomans and Christian Oklahomans allow it to happen.”