The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has voted to deny clemency to Quintin Jones (pictured, right), disregarding the request by the family of Berthena Bryant, whom Jones killed in 1999, asking Texas Governor Greg Abbott to commute his sentence to life in prison. The board’s vote on May 18, 2021 comes one day before Jones is scheduled to be executed.

Bryant was Jones’ great-aunt. The family’s plea for clemency, which stresses Jones’ remorse and rehabilitation, has gained the support of more than 150,000 people who have signed a petition urging Abbott to spare Jones’ life.

In an interview on CBS This Morning, Mattie Long (pictured left), Bryant’s sister, said she has forgiven Jones and does not think he should be executed. “I love him very much,” she said. “I think the governor should spare him, because he has changed and he’s a different person than he used to be.”

Jones agrees. He admits to the killing but says, “I’m nothing like that person” who murdered Ms. Bryant.

Jones credits Long with inspiring him to reform. “Another thing that helped me out was my great aunt, Aunt Mattie. It was her sister. So by her loving me enough to forgive me, it gave me the strength to try to do better and to want to do better,” he said in a video produced by the New York Times. In a letter to Governor Abbott, Long wrote, “Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot. Even so, God is merciful. … 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 February 22, 2018, Abbott commuted the death sentence of Thomas “Bart” Whitaker less than an hour before he was scheduled to be executed. Whitaker’s father Kent—the sole survivor of an attack in which his wife and only other son were murdered—had urged Abbott to grant clemency to his son. Less than six months later, the state executed Christopher Young despite a plea from the victim’s family to spare his life.

At that time, Young’s lawyer, David Dow, pointed out racial disparities in the commutation process. Family members of the murder victim had asked the pardons board to commute the death sentence imposed on the person convicted of murdering their loved one six times this century, Dow noted. “[O]f those six,” Dow said, “three are black, two are Hispanic and one is white. Only in the case of the white guy [Thomas Whitaker] did they vote to recommend commutation.”

Jones’ Story of Redemption

Jones was 20 years old and struggling with drug addiction when he killed Bryant. “He had an unimaginably difficult childhood of abuse and violence and addiction and neglect,” said writer Suleika Jaouad, who has been pen pals with Jones for almost ten years, “but as he said to me, his childhood did not excuse what he did.” She calls Jones “the epitome of a prison success story,” explaining that he expresses deep remorse for his crime and has built strong, positive relationships with pen pals around the world during his 21 years in prison. Sylvie, a Swiss mother of two who has corresponded with Jones, said he encouraged her children to stay in school and avoid drugs, using his own poor choices as an example for them. After her son’s suicide last year, Sylvie said Jones was a source of comfort to her.

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Jaouad writes, “We make examples of people all the time, and sometimes rightfully so. But the greatest example that can be made of Quintin Phillippe Jones is that human beings are capable of redemption and reconciliation, deserving of mercy and grace.”

Legal Issues in Jones’ Case

Jones does not contest his guilt. However, he has filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court and sought a stay of execution seeking review of two issues.

First, he argues that his execution should be stayed to permit him to investigate and present evidence that he may be ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. Jones’ IQ scores place him in the borderline range of intellectual functioning, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his claim on the grounds that he had failed to make out a prima facie claim that he is intellectually disabled. Jones alleges that his first state appeals lawyer failed to develop the issue during a time in which the Texas courts were applying an unconstitutionally harsh definition of intellectual disability and that he should have an opportunity to have the issue decided based upon the current clinical diagnostic criteria for intellectual disability.

Second, Jones argues that Texas obtained his death sentence by presenting scientifically false testimony concerning his alleged future dangerousness in prison if he had been sentenced to life. State prosecutors’ expert witness administered a controversial test called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist that has been criticized for its unreliability in predicting future conduct in an institutional setting. The expert then labeled Jones as a “psychopath,” which he defined as a person who “doesn’t have a conscious or has little conscience.” Jones has asked the Court to review whether the prosecution’s use of expert testimony that since has been discredited violates his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

If Jones is executed, his will be the first execution by a U.S. state in more than 10 months. Though the federal government executed 13 people in 2020 and 2021, the last state execution was carried out in Texas on July 8, 2020. It is the longest period without a state execution in more than 40 years. Five of the six death warrants currently pending in the U.S. are in Texas.