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Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board is preparing to make its final recommendation in the upcoming commutation hearing for high-profile death-row inmate Julius Jones on September 13 at 10 a.m. Meanwhile, relatives and supporters of Jones, who has maintained his innocence for over 20 years, are pulling out all the stops with a flurry of events in a last ditch effort to save his life.
Cece-Jones Davis is founder of the Julius Jones Coalition and has been a strong advocate for his innocence, alongside Jones’ sister Antoinette.
“Over the next month, we need to do everything we can to help Julius get the freedom he deserves,” Jones-Davis wrote to supporters in an email on Friday. “So today, I’m asking you to contact the Pardon & Parole Board and tell them you support Julius’ fight for justice.”
Events include a screening of the film “Just Mercy” from August 20 to August 22. Following the screening, organizers named August 30th through September 3rd “Julius Jones Week.” Organizers also encouraged supporters to post on social media in support of his innocence and continue to call the Pardon and Parole Board. Beyond that, supporters will hold a meet and greet on September 11 and a special church service on September 12, with times and locations coming soon.
New evidence pokes holes in Julius Jones conviction
Aside from evidence pointing to a racist juror and an ineffective council, Jones’ two-decades old trial was marred by the fact that no relative was able to testify to his alibi the night an Edmond businessman was murdered. Julius Jones, then a 19-year-old college student at the University of Oklahoma, has never changed his story, claiming he had nothing to do with the man’s death. His family maintains that he was at home playing board games with them during the time of the murder.
This year, a former co-defendant of Jones reportedly admitted to another inmate that he framed Jones for the murder, according to a report from the Frontier.
Arkansas inmate Roderick Wesley told Jones’ attorneys in a series of letters and interviews that Chris Jordan, who allegedly spent time at the out-of-state prison during an “interstate transfer”, admitted to the killing.
“One day we’re sitting there, I’m telling him about my situation, he pretty much told me about his because at the time I didn’t even know he had the murder charge,” Wesley told Jones’ attorneys in an interview they provided to the Frontier.
“So it was pretty much like I guess you could say at the time (he was) being sorta remorseful. But it was one of those cases where (he was like) ‘I’m sorry but I’m not gonna just jump out there and throw myself to the wolves,’” Wesley added.
District Attorney David Prater refuses to consider new evidence
Moreover, former Attorney General Mike Hunter and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater have refused to consider any new evidence pointing to Jones’ innocence and DA Prater has even gone as far as to sue Governor Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board.
According to the lawsuit, DA Prater is asking the governor to block any votes from the Board that involve two members, Kelly Doyle and Adam Luck, because they work for community organizations that support justice-involved residents. DA Prater also publicly criticized Luck for retweeting a tweet from Julius Jones supporter Kim Kardashian that gave information on how to contact the Pardon and Parole Board.
Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed published in the Oklahoman, Cece-Jones Davis called on DA Prater to be transparent in his role as an arbiter of justice.
Jones supporter calls out DA Prater for refusing to turn over Jones’ casefile
Jones-Davis explained a conversation she’d had with the district attorney at a conference several years ago. “Mr. Prater said something that night that I have not forgotten: ‘Without question, race plays a role in the criminal justice system.’”
She then detailed how the defense team for Jones had requested Julius Jones’ casefile from DA Prater, to which he allegedly told them he would hand it over.
“But to this day, he has not. Instead, he has downplayed public outcry and sued Pardon and Parole Board members in an effort to deny Julius a commutation hearing,” Jones-Davis wrote.
In her op-ed, she also noted how Oklahoma has exonerated 10 death-row inmates due to prosecutorial misconduct and actual innocence. Bob Macey, the prosecutor who sentenced Julius Jones to death, had nearly half of his 54 sentences overturned and was accused of prosecutorial misconduct in multiple cases before his death in 2011, according to Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project. It ranked Macey as the nation’s second deadliest prosecutor.
Bipartisan calls for Jones’ freedom
“I have spent the past twenty years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness, and was not at. I feel terrible for Mr. Howell and his family, but I was not responsible,” Julius Jones wrote in his commutation petition.
“I did not have a chance to tell my story to the jury at my trial because my lawyers rested the case without calling any witnesses, including my mother, father, sister and brother who would have told the jury I was home with them when this crime was committed.”
Current and former legislators have also voiced their concerns.
“The death of Mr. Howell was an absolute tragedy,” state Senator George Young, a Democrat, and organizer Kris Steele, a Republican, wrote in an op-ed published by the Frontier on August 5.
“Executing an innocent man will not bring Mr. Howell back to his family, but commuting an innocent man will bring Julius Jones closer to his. After 20 years in prison it is time to right this wrong,” they added.
Since 1976, Oklahoma has had the highest number of executions per capita, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Moreover, Oklahoma was the first state in the U.S. and the first jurisdiction in the world to adopt lethal injection as a form of execution in 1977.
Over 6 million people have signed a petition online demanding justice for Julius Jones.
To contact the Pardon and Parole Board, call (405) 521-6600. To contact DA Prater’s office, call (405) 713-1600. Organizers and supporters have asked those interested in getting involved to visit https://www.justiceforjuliusjones.com/.