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Texas is set to execute Quintin Jones on Wednesday evening. If it proceeds, it will be the state’s first execution of the year and its second during the coronavirus pandemic, an unusual lull in the state with the busiest death chamber.
Jones, now 41, was sentenced to death in 2001 in Tarrant County after he beat his 83-year-old great-aunt, Berthena Bryant, to death with a baseball bat after she refused to lend him more money, according to court records. He said he was on drugs.
But in the two decades since he has been on Texas’ death row, Bryant’s sole surviving sibling has forgiven Jones, her grandnephew who she says is filled with remorse and grew into a different person. In a clemency petition asking the state pardons board and governor to commute his sentence to life in prison, she and Jones’ twin brother pleaded for the state not to victimize them again.
“Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot. Even so, God is merciful,” Mattie Long wrote in an affidavit. “Quintin can’t bring her back. I can’t bring her back. I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”
On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted against delaying Jones’ execution or changing his sentence to life in prison. Gov. Greg Abbott could still delay the execution by 30 days without a board recommendation, but he has never done so.
The board rarely recommends clemency, and Texas governors grant it even less often. Since Abbott took office in 2015, Texas has executed more than 50 people. But there are similarities in the cases of Jones and the one death row prisoner whose life Abbott spared, which gave Jones’ supporters hope.
Thomas Whitaker had also been sentenced to death for his relatives’ murders, with a surviving family member of both the victims and murderer begging for mercy.
In 2018, after a unanimous recommendation from the parole board, the governor stopped Whitaker’s execution within an hour of his scheduled death. Whitaker, a 41-year-old white man, was sentenced to death for the 2003 shooting deaths of his mother and brother in Fort Bend County. He had planned the murders of his family members with his roommate, who shot the victims as they all came home from dinner one evening. Whitaker’s father, Kent, was also shot, but survived.
The parole board and governor were moved to grant clemency at least in part by Kent Whitaker, who pleaded for the state not to kill the last remaining member of his family. Thomas Whitaker’s waiver of any possibility of parole and the lesser sentence of life in prison for the triggerman in the murders also persuaded Abbott to change the man’s death sentence to one of life in prison, the governor said.
Prosecutors said Jones, who is Black, also admitted his involvement in two other murders months before his aunt’s death. But Jones largely pinned those murders, for which he wasn’t convicted, on another man, Riky Roosa. In his clemency affidavit, Jones’ twin brother blamed all of the murders on the influence of Roosa, a man 20 years older than Jones with easy access to drugs, and his brother’s addiction. Roosa, who is white, was sentenced to life in prison for the other two murders, according to Jones’ clemency petition. He will become eligible for parole in 2039, prison records show.
Aside from gubernatorial action, Jones still has some legal appeals in federal courts. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to weigh in on his latest arguments as of Tuesday evening.
In legal filings, Jones’ lawyer argued the execution should be halted to determine if Jones has an intellectual disability that would bar him from the death penalty. He has also argued that discredited evidence presented at his trial swayed the jury into believing Jones was a “psychopath” and therefore likely a future danger. Jurors are asked to weigh potential future dangerousness when deciding between sentences of life in prison or death.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a similar appeal last week.
Jones’ lawyer has argued the psychologist testifying for the state used a psychopathy checklist that other psychologists have discredited, with a Texas A&M professor calling it “unreliable, unscientific, and misleading in capital cases because [it] cannot reliably predict behavior in prison.”
Tarrant County prosecutors countered that the professor’s opinion did not discredit the checklist. Plus, they said in a court filing, there was other evidence to show Jones would be a future danger to society, including the other murders he was alleged to be involved in and claims of violence at school.
Before the board voted against clemency, Jones said in a New York Times interview that it took him a long time to forgive himself. Still, he hoped to be spared from the death penalty, even though he knew he would likely never leave prison.
“I can accept that,” he said. “There’s other avenues in prison that I can take to better myself and to better others along the way.”
Disclosure: Texas A&M University and The New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.