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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has halted the high-profile execution of death-row inmate Julius Jones, hours before he was scheduled to die for a 22-year-old murder in which doubts about his guilt have been raised.
The governor's eleventh-hour reprieve followed the clemency recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which voted 3-1 on November 1 that Jones' sentence should be commuted to life in prison.
"After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones' sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," Stitt said in a statement on Thursday.
The commutation was filed just over four hours before Jones was to die by lethal injection of a three-drug cocktail that his lawyers had challenged as inhumane in a separate last-minute appeal.
Jones, 41, was convicted of fatally shooting insurance executive Paul Howell during a 1999 carjacking in his driveway.
But his lawyers have cited evidence that he was home with his family when the murder occurred, which they said the jury never learned because his lawyers at the time failed to fully investigate it.
The case, which has drawn widespread interest from celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, and anti-death penalty activists, sparked several protests and vigils across the state in the past two days.
A crowd outside the state penitentiary in McAlester where Jones was scheduled to be put to death erupted in cheers after learning of the governor's decision. Supporters chanted Jones' name, hugged and wiped away tears, video posted on Twitter showed.
Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr also hailed the reprieve, adding on Twitter, "Very importantly and most urgently, we must abolish the death penalty."