[ Case description to come ]
A former death row inmate may soon be free, thanks to the efforts of Oklahoma’s NAACP director.
The state Pardon and Parole Board recommended a parole to Colorado for Oran Jones, who at one time faced the electric chair for the 1974 robbery-slaying of an Oklahoma City motel owner.
Parole board members were set to deny clemency for Jones until the Rev. Wade Watts of McAlester testified on his behalf Thursday.
Before hearing Watts’ remarks, one board member even interrupted an Oklahoma County prosecutor’s objection of Jones’ clemency bid, saying the protest wasn’t necessary.
“I had him marked ‘no’ originally,” said Carl Hamm, the board’s vice chairman. “Reverend Watts was what influenced me. ” Watts said Monday, “I have kept up with this boy for several years. All the guards have spoken very highly of him. They say not only has he never caused any problems, he’s actually kept trouble down. ” Jones, 41, is part of a prison group that speaks to youth groups and tries to steer them away from lives of crime, said Watts, who is the state’s executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Watts said he has spoken before the parole board on behalf of “a dozen or more” inmates, “and only one has turned out bad. ” He also said he had doubts about Jones’ conviction for the slaying of Ealam Stanley at a motel in the 2100 block of NE 23.
The court transcript showed that Jones accepted an immunity offer to testify against another suspect, then was charged with first-degree murder anyway, Watts said.
“I think he was there (at the motel), but I don’t think he was the triggerman,” Watts said. “If I thought deep down that he was guilty, I wouldn’t have gone to bat for him. ” Jones was among several Oklahoma inmates whose sentences were modified to life a year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.
A parole board official said it was the first time in several years that clemency had been recommended for a former death row inmate.
The board voted 3-1 Friday to approve a parole only to Colorado after a family member from the Denver area said Jones could live with her.
Colorado officials have not said whether they will accept Jones’ plan, said Jerry Massie, Oklahoma corrections department spokesman.