WASHINGTON — Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City praised Gov. Kevin Stitt for his “tremendous courage” in granting convicted murderer Julius Jones clemency hours ahead of his scheduled execution on Nov. 18.

“It took tremendous courage in the face of intense pressure for Gov. Stitt to grant clemency in this case,” said Coakley, in a statement released shortly after the governor commuted Jones’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I applaud his commitment to seeking justice while providing the condemned an opportunity for redemption,” the archbishop continued. “To oppose the death penalty is not to be soft on crime. Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life.”

Earlier on Thursday, Coakley tweeted that he “offered Mass this morning for Julis and Gov. Stitt. It’s in the Lord’s hands now.” The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City had planned several simultaneous prayer vigils throughout the archdiocese in the hour before Jones was set to be executed.

Jones was sentenced to death in 2002 for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. His case drew international attention and he has maintained that he is innocent of the crime. Howell was shot twice in the head in his parents’ driveway, in front of his daughters. Jones, who was 19-years-old, was accused of shooting Howell while in the process of carjacking his SUV.

Howell’s family believes Jones is responsible for the murder.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended on Nov. 1 that Jones be granted clemency. Despite the recommendation, it was up to Stitt to decide whether or not to commute his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Stitt, a Republican, commuted the sentence shortly after noon Central time on Thursday. Jones was set to be executed at 4 p.m. Central.

“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 prepared statement.

In the nearly two decades since Jones was sentenced to death, there has been a growing movement to stop his execution. The Innocence Project, as well as many celebrities, have drawn international attention to his case.

A Change.org petition calling for the state of Oklahoma to stop the execution has been signed by more than six and a half million people.