The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 Nov. 1 to recommend the governor commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life with the possibility of parole.
One of Jones’ advocates has been Susan Sharp. The University of Oklahoma professor has advocated against the death penalty for over a decade. She’s traveled around the state voicing her concerns about the death penalty and speaking with both victims of crimes and families who have a loved one on death row. Sharp has researched and written books about various topics regarding criminal justice.
“So real interesting fact for me, I remember when this crime happened. I actually had a roommate who was friends with Paul Howell, who was devastated when he was murdered,” she said. “And then, I was intrigued because Julius was an OU student, and I was an OU professor at the time. And so that caught my attention too.”
She met the Jones family, including Julius, because she has been vocal about abolishing the death penalty and she wrote a book, “Hidden Victims: The Effects of the Death Penalty on Families of the Accused.”
Sharp said when news broke of the commutation, she cried tears of joy for Jones and his family.
“Somewhere along the line in the past five years or so, as we’ve gotten closer to execution, I’ve gotten to know the family ... I can tell you I’ve been on panels with them ... I’ve brought them to my classes to speak; I can even tell you that I’ve had Julius talk via cell phone, calling Jimmy Lawson to have him speak to my class, she said.
“He’s very bright, and he wants to do good. He told me he wanted to study history. That’s what he’s most interested in studying, or it was less than two years ago. He felt very bad for his parents and all they’re going through.”
Although Stitt didn’t take the Pardon and Parole Board’s entire recommendation, Sharp said she is thankful he didn’t allow Jones to be executed.
“I can say that I appreciate that the Governor was in a very tight position where no matter what he did, there were going to be people who did not like what he did,” she said. “I’m grateful that he chose not to kill in our names ... because that’s what you’re doing when you have a legal execution, you’re killing in the name of the residents of the state.”
Sharp said at least Jones can still help people while he’s in prison, something he couldn’t have done if he were executed.
“When someone’s alive, there’s always hope. There’s always the chance for change. Once you’ve killed them, there is no more hope,” she said. “Julius can contribute in ways, even locked up. He will not be on death row. He will be able to be helpful to other prisoners and to make a difference.”
Sharp said, in her experience, the death penalty hasn’t brought closure to families impacted by homicide. She asked people to pray for both families for everything they have gone through, not just during the past week, but over the past 20 years.
“As far as those where there has been an execution, the ones that I’ve talked to and ones that I know have said there was no closure,” she said. “It was kind of like, is that all there is? They’re still left missing the person in their life. It doesn’t make up for what they’ve lost.”