FRISCO, Texas — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott first learned about Julius Jones late spring 2020.
Prescott had lost his brother, Jace, to suicide that April. He was trying to forge a path forward, “to find myself” and help someone.
“I felt like I didn’t help my brother or I couldn’t help my brother,” Prescott said Thursday. “I wanted to help somebody else save their life. That’s where it really hit me.”
Summer 2020, Prescott wrote a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt urging clemency on behalf of Jones, then a death row inmate.
Thursday, hours before Jones’ execution had been scheduled, Stitt granted that clemency and commuted Jones’ sentence to a sentence of life in prison without parole.
“I’m thankful for the governor to grant his clemency first and foremost,” Prescott said Thursday from Cowboys headquarters just after practice Thursday. “A lot of prayers have been said. I know there’s a lot of people that are supporting Julius and supporting the governor’s decision in which he made.”
Prescott sent a letter to the governor’s office and parole board on Aug. 6, 2020, according to a copy obtained by TIME. Prescott said he was writing to express his “wholehearted support” of Jones’ commutation. He noted the racial prejudice he faced even as the high-profile quarterback of the Cowboys, imploring Oklahoma officials: “You all are in the unique position of being able to make a direct impact by addressing a specific miscarriage of justice.”
Prescott said his review of the case led him to conclude both that Jones did not commit the crime and that he was not granted due process, for reasons including the alleged use of a racial slur by a juror during the trial.
“The treatment of Julius Jones is the kind of miscarriage of justice African American men like myself live in fear of, and that is why I feel compelled to use the influence that God has blessed me with to speak up for what I believe is right and to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves,” Prescott wrote, according to TIME. “Julius Jones’ case is a clear example of what can happen to a person who cannot afford legal representation, and what can happen to a black person at any time in this country.
“My prayer is that he is able to salvage what remains of his life and that, through the righting of a decades-old wrong, he will be restored to his family soon.”
Thursday, when Jones’ death sentence was commuted but his life imprisonment was not, Prescott said he hopes to continue to help Jones, and that he wants to urge officials to review Jones’ case again.
“Obviously all the holes and unfair trial that he got,” Prescott said. “Maybe we can get him a fair trial and bring all the evidence and the facts of him being innocent.”
Several athletes advocated on behalf of Jones, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield posting to Instagram “Thank you God!!!” after hearing clemency was granted.
Jones was convicted in the 1999 fatal shooting of insurance executive Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jurors sentenced him to the death penalty in 2002, and he has since spent nearly 20 years on death row. Jones and activists claim he was wrongfully convicted. Prescott, after research, agrees.
“I wanted to gather all the evidence and all the information that I could to make sure that I was putting my mind in the right place and putting my foot forward where I believed,” Prescott said. “And yeah, I sincerely do.
“We’re all very, very thankful for (Stitt) not taking an innocent man’s life.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.