After spending more than two decades on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder he maintains he never committed, Julius Jones will finally receive a commutation hearing at 10:00 a.m. on September 13.
Despite mounting opposition from Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, Jones will finally get to assert his innocence at the September hearing, Jones’ legal team confirmed to KFOR.
While attending the University of Oklahoma, a jury convicted 19-year-old Julius Jones of shooting and killing Edmond businessman Paul Howell in Howell’s driveway in July 1999.
Commutation hearing will highlight inadequate council, racist juror
Yet, the lawyer Jones received had never tried a capital murder case before, didn’t let Jones or anyone from his family testify, and failed to expose evidence and an alibi pointing to Jones’ innocence.
“As God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Howell being shot and killed,” Jones said in a previous clemency report. “I have spent the past 20 years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness and was not at.”
The judge at the time of the trial also failed to exclude a juror who made explicitly racist remarks about Jones, which ABC’s “The Last Defense” brought to light, elevating his case and helping him garner millions of supporters, celebrities and athletes from Kim Kardashian to Baker Mayfield.
Many compare Jones’ case to that of Walter McMillian’s, played by Jamie Foxx in the 2019 film “Just Mercy”.
Oklahoma known for racial disparities in criminal legal system
The Jones family, which maintains Julius was at home with them at the time of the murder, hopes he will finally get a fair shot at freedom. Although, it remains to be seen whether Jones will receive a fair hearing in a state where prosecutors are more likely to call for the death penalty when the victim is White, according to a 2017 report in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
“Conversely, we find that homicide cases that take the lives of male victims who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups are the least likely to receive a death sentence,” the report’s conclusion stated.
Most recently, an Arkansas inmate Roderick Wesley claimed to recognize a co-defendant as the real killer after watching a documentary on Jones’ case. Wesley signed an affidavit claiming that Christopher Jordan confessed to the murder while in contact with Wesley during an interstate prison transfer, according to the Frontier.
Days later, on March 8, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to send Jones’ case to stage two, allowing him a full hearing. It came amidst a campaign of intimidation from Oklahoma County DA David Prater, who attempted to have a parole board member removed for a tweet explaining Jones’ case and the commutation process.
Attorneys for Oklahoma attempts to obstruct commutation process
Parole Board member Adam Luck refused to resign after Prater accused him of having a conflict of interest for retweeting a 2019 post from Kim Kardashian explaining Jones’ case. Prater also highlighted Luck’s involvement with a non-profit that assists recently released prisoners as an example of a conflict of interest.
Yet, despite Prater’s unusual attempt to threateningly insert himself into a legal commutation process, the board has chosen to give Julius Jones what his 1999 trial lawyer never did, a chance to plead his innocence with all of the available evidence.
Even the state’s highest-ranking lawyer attempted to stop Jones from receiving a fair commutation hearing. Last year, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told media that calling attention to Jones’ case brings nothing but pain to the Howell family. Instead of doing his due diligence and assessing all the available evidence, including an alibi that was never brought up in the original trial, Hunter appears to want Julius Jones to die quietly. This week he vaguely announced plans to step down due to “personal matters that are becoming public“.
Relatives and supporters remain hopeful
But the family, along with millions of supporters, remain determined to save Jones’ life. Back in February, supporters marched to the Pardon and Parole Board’s office to deliver 20 boxes containing 6 million signatures in support of his release.
Hope has also come in the form of Jones’ new attorney, Dale Baich. He twice argued in support of Jones to the U.S. Supreme Court. First, he illuminated the capital punishment disparities based on race in Oklahoma in 2019. More recently, he called attention to the racist juror in Jones’ original trial. In both arguments, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case, eliminating the possibility of federal intervention.
Ultimately, while millions across the nation want to see Jones freed, the decision will come down to a recommendation from a few board members on September 13 and the final word from Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.
Family friend, activist and minister Cece Jones-Davis said she’s thrilled for Julius and his family in an email to The Black Wall Street Times.
“This has taken too long, but thanks be to God, Julius will finally receive a hearing. We need our officials to delay this no further,” Jones-Davis said.