Death Row Exonerees, Julius Jones Coalition, OK Catholic Conference Deliver Petitions to OK Gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Death Row Exonerees, Julius Jones Coalition, OK Catholic Conference Deliver Petitions to Governor Stitt on World Day Against Death Penalty
OKLAHOMA CITY – This morning, on what is internationally recognized as “World Day Against the Death Penalty,” and during a month observed by Catholics as “Respect Life Month,” the call to stop executions in Oklahoma reached Governor Kevin Stitt’s office. Two petitions and a Catholic faith leader letter were delivered to a representative at the Governor’s office. Delivering the petitions were Antoinette Jones, whose brother Julius Jones came within hours of execution less than a year ago, former Oklahoma State Senator Connie Johnson and Witness to Innocence Executive Director Herman Lindsey. Following the petition delivery, the three held a brief press conference in the capitol building's 2nd floor rotunda where they were joined by Adam Luck, former member of the Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Parole, Rev. Don Heath, Chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Rev. Jon Middendorf, Senior Pastor of the OKC First Church of the Nazarene. “Around this time last year my family was enduring unimaginable emotions as Oklahoma tried to execute my brother Julius Jones,” Antoinette Jones told the press assembled. “We know how cruel the death penalty is…We want to live in a state that finds solutions rather than killing.”
Jones and Lindsey delivered 5,922 signatures on a petition led by the Julius Jones Coalition and Witness to Innocence. Both are deeply troubled by the number of innocent people sentenced to death across the country and their petition points out that “Oklahoma has the highest execution rate per capita of any state. But half of the death sentences have been overturned due to mistakes and legal errors” and asks, “how many innocent people may die before Oklahoma stops executions?”
That question was repeated in remarks from Adam Luck when he took the podium. Addressing any Oklahoman who supports the use of the death penalty, he said we have to ask, “how many innocent people are we okay with executing,” explaining that “executing innocent people is an inherent part of the death penalty.” Luck urged anyone in favor of the state’s death penalty to read the report of the 2017 bipartisan commission to review Oklahoma’s death penalty policy which recommended 40 significant reforms that have yet to be implemented. Luck ended his remarks by speaking about the torture of botched executions in Oklahoma’s recent past.
Rev. Heath also spoke of the torturous nature of all executions saying, “lethal injection is a euphemism for strapping a defenseless man to a gurney and poisoning him.” In August, Rev. Heath was in the execution chamber with James Coddington.
Noting that today is Indigenous Peoples Day, Senator Jonson spoke out about Athony Sanchez, a member of the Choctaw Nation scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma in April on Choctaw nation land “where the death penalty is illegal.”
Sue Hosch, Oklahoma Coordinator for Death Penalty Action, delivered 3,681 signatures on a Death Penalty Action led petition asking the Governor to “please redirect the funds wasted trying to execute a tiny percentage of Oklahoma's convicted killers to instead provide for better prevention efforts toward stopping people on a path toward murder, and to better and more consistent supports for all murder victim family members. The trend in the United States is away from the death penalty. Please follow that path.”
Shortly after the press conference, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma also delivered a letter signed by 57 Catholic faith leaders including the Most Reverend Paul Coakely, Archbishop of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, and the Most Reverend David Konderla, Bishop of the Tulsa Diocese. The letter was initiated in collaboration with Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the use of the death penalty and promote restorative justice, The letter states “We believe the enormous pain and suffering of the victims of violent crime and of their family members should not be dismissed. We must do more to help victims in the aftermath of tragedy. However, we believe that state-sanctioned killings are an inappropriate and immoral response to violent crime. It denies an opportunity for redemption and healing and serves merely as an endorsement of violence as an appropriate response to wrongdoing.”
“I was on death row” said Herman Lindsey who spent three years on death row before being exonerated in 2009 in a unanimous verdict by the Florida Supreme Court. “I lived among those people. Those people are human. They made a mistake. How can we ask God to forgive us if we cannot forgive others.”
Rev. Middendorf was the final speaker at the press conference who noted that most executions happen in the bible belt, and he called Oklahoma the “belt buckle” with more churches and pastors than any other state. However, he said “we don’t believe in transformation” and “it seems we don’t believe in god’s power to bring about miraculous change…We seem to prefer death and vengeance. I think we can be better than this, but we aren’t right now. We could be. We can be.” He then led those assembled in a closing prayer.
About Witness to Innocence:
Witness to Innocence is an organization of, by, and for death row exonerees. Through public speaking, testifying in state legislatures, and media interviews, its members expose the reality that innocent people are sentenced to death. WTI also provides an essential network of peer support for the exonerated, most of whom received no compensation or access to reentry services when released from death row. Learn more at https://www.witnesstoinnocence.org/.
About Julius Jones Coalition:
The Julius Jones Coalition is a national, nonpartisan advocacy collective fighting against the death sentence and wrongful conviction of Julius Jones in Oklahoma. https://www.justiceforjuliusjones.com