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Judges grant stay of execution for two Black death row inmates in Oklahoma

A federal court in Denver has granted a stay of execution for two Oklahoma inmates, one of whom claims innocence and has worldwide support for his clemency.

Julius Jones (left) and John Grant.

A federal appeals court has granted a stay of execution for Julius Jones and John Grant, two Black death row inmates in Oklahoma—by far the nation’s deadliest state for capital punishment.

The order was filed yesterday with a 2-1 decision from the 10th Circuit panel.

Grant, whose execution was to occur at 4pm CT today, was convicted in 1998 for the murder of an Oklahoma corrections center employee.

He was denied clemency earlier this month, but a related (and repeated) lawsuit from multiple death row inmates in Oklahoma, alleging that the state’s death penalty procedures are unconstitutional, recently had Grant’s and Jones’ names re-added by a judge.

Based partly on that ruling, the 10th Circuit says that the executions cannot proceed—at least for now.

The decision elicited a positive reaction from many onlookers, including Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who also happens to be the chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“A stay of execution provides an opportunity for Oklahomans and our leaders to decide whether we truly want to be a pro-life state,” his statement reads, much like his archdiocesan Call To Prayer issued on October 20th (which touted Respect Life Month and called for an end to the death penalty).

“There are other ways to administer just punishment without resorting to lethal measures.”

Complicating the narrative of punishment is Jones, who has become a national flashpoint for the death penalty over the last several months, maintaining his innocence concerning the 1999 murder of Paul Howell.

More than 6.4 million people have signed a petition in Jones’ support, and various celebrities have thrown their support behind him as well.

However, the Howell family—who are Christians—have created a website defending the courts’ decisions, calling Jones’ supporters “social justice warriors”.

Perhaps the chief target of that vitriol is famed actress Viola Davis, who with her husband produced the 2018 docuseries “The Last Defense”, which covered the Jones case in its final three episodes.

Jones, who was 19 at the time of the murder, has been in solitary confinement for almost all of his sentence.  His request for clemency was passed over earlier this month by Governor Kevin Stitt, but he has a hearing on the matter scheduled for Monday.

His now-stayed execution was scheduled for November 18th.

As with virtually all of the recent executions in the US, both Grant’s and Jones’ now rest in the hands of the US Supreme Court, as Oklahoma attorney general John O’Connor immediately announced he will appeal the 10th Circuit decision.

Up to now, the DC justices have refused to intervene in most all executions since the bench’s conservative swing after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Grant’s execution would be the first in Oklahoma in nearly seven years.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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