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OKLAHOMA CITY – Several people who have been exonerated and released from death row are traveling to the state Capitol in Oklahoma City on Sept. 1 to advocate on behalf of Julius Jones’ commutation application as well as his release from prison.
The group is part of Witness to Innocence, a non-profit advocacy organization created by and for death row exonerees, according to a press release. Its mission is to empower exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the fight to end the death penalty in the United States.
Death row exonerees participate in events supporting Julius Jones
Exonerees will participate in two events on Wednesday—a press conference at 11 a.m., followed by a faith event at 6:30 p.m. The press conference will take place at the Oklahoma Capitol Press Conference room, G5.
Members of the group plan to discuss how the government got their cases wrong, and why they support Jones’ commutation application and release. They plan to submit a joint letter of support to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt immediately following the event.
Later that day, participants will gather at the OKC First Church of the Nazarene, located at 4400 Expressway OKC 73116. There, they will share their stories of wrongful convictions and join together in prayer.
Pardon and Parole to decide whether to move forward with commutation hearing
The announcement of Wednesday’s events with death row exonerees comes a day before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is scheduled to meet and decide whether to move forward with Julius Jones commutation hearing, scheduled for Sept. 13. On Tuesday, the Board will meet at 1:30 p.m. via zoom to discuss the fate of Jones’ commutation hearing.
The hearing, which had been set on the calendar back in March, when Jones passed stage 1 of the commutation hearing, was recently thrown into doubt after Oklahoma’s newly appointed and unelected Attorney General requested execution dates for Jones and six other detainees on Oklahoma’s death row.
Near the end of August, AG John O’Connor asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for an execution date of October 28 for Julius Jones, instead of waiting until after the Parole Board’s scheduled commutation hearing.
Jones supporters “shocked” by AG’s interference with Pardon and Parole Board
Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, a family friend and faith leader who leads the Justice for Julius Campaign, said she was shocked by the AG’s decision to request execution dates.
“Mr. O’Connor, and everybody else, knows that Julius Jones has a commutation hearing on Sept 13 with the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board,” Rev. Jones-Davis said in a Facebook video. “An unprecedented commutation hearing. No death row inmate in Oklahoma has ever received a commutation hearing before.”
AG O’Connor previously shot down calls to halt executions. “My job as the state’s chief law enforcement officer is to enforce the laws of the state of Oklahoma,” he said in a statement.
This week’s events also come after documents were shared on Friday with local media about a recommendation from an investigator for the Pardon and Parole Board.
A report from investigator Lisa Reading read, Julius Jones should “be granted life in prison, either with or without the possibility of parole,” according to documents published by the Frontier and shared with The Black Wall Street Times.
However, the Parole Board’s general counsel later clarified that the report was not an official position by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, according to text messages sent to Jones’ attorney Dale Baich and shared with the Frontier.
Julius Jones Week
Now, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is preparing to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to continue with Jones’ upcoming commutation hearing. Meanwhile, supporters of Jones are doing everything they can to light a fire for a man who’s maintained his innocence for two decades in the 1999 murder of Edmond Businessman Paul Howell.
The events featuring death row exonerees come during what Jones supporters have dubbed “Julius Jones Week”. The events include:
- Monday: A Justice for Julius Instagram Live kickoff takes place at 7 p.m. CST.
- Tuesday: A virtual prayer circle for Julius Jones at 6:30 p.m. CST.
- Wednesday: Death row exonerees will lead a Witness to Innocence event at OKC’s First Church of the Nazarene at 6:30 p.m. CST.
- Thursday: A Julius Jones Hoopfest will take place from 6-8 p.m. CST.
- Saturday: Runners will participate in a Justice for Julius Jones 5K.
Jones, who was a 19-year-old University of Oklahoma student at the time Edmond Businessman Paul Howell was murdered, said in a clemency report that while he made mistakes as a kid, he was never involved in Howell’s murder.
“As God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Howell being shot and killed,” Jones wrote. “I have spent the past 20 years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness and was not at.”
More recently, on top of having an ineffective counsel and at least one racist juror, another man’s alleged confession adds evidence in support of Jones’ claim of innocence. A recent poll conducted by Amber Integrated found 6 in 10 Oklahomans support commutation for Julius Jones.
On Friday, Rev. Cece Jones-Davis pressed for the Pardon and Parole Board to not give in to pressure from the attorney general. She also called on Oklahoma AG John O’Connor to rescind his request for an execution date.
“What we need is the Pardon and Parole Board to stand their ground. To hold their commutation hearing on the 13th,” Rev. Jones-Davis said.