Editor’s note: This article originally claimed that Julius Jones’ commutation hearing was moved from September to an October clemency hearing. A new policy was adopted, but it won’t change Jones’ Sept. commutation hearing to an Oct. clemency hearing until the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals issues the execution date. Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director Bates said he expects execution dates to be set within days.
By Deon Osborne and Mike Creef
A historic commutation hearing for Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones may be rescheduled as a full clemency hearing after the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted on Tuesday afternoon to adopt a new policy.
The Board’s new policy will move Julius Jones’ Sept. 13 commutation hearing to a last chance clemency hearing on October 5 at 9 a.m. if and when the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals sets an execution date. The move came in anticipation that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals will issue execution dates for Jones and several other detainees soon following a request from Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor.
Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board poised for October clemency hearing for Julius Jones
At the meeting, the Board voted 4-0 to adopt a new policy that formalizes the process by allowing detainees to have their commutation hearings heard at a clemency hearing if execution dates are set before their commutation hearing takes place.
“The purpose of our meeting today is to set clemency hearing dates,” said Tom Bates, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
He advised the Board members to approve clemency dates, considering the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals could issue execution dates at any time.
“Mr. Jones will be given the right to speak to the board for 20 minutes at the clemency hearing,” Director Bates said.
The Board also acknowledged that the upcoming clemency hearings would be the first for any of the current members.
What is clemency?
Clemency is a “process by which a governor, president, or administrative board may reduce a defendant’s sentence or grant a pardon”, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. And it’s rare for officials to approve clemency. Whereas a commutation reduces a sentence currently being served, a clemency has the potential to reduce or completely eliminate the conviction.
At the tentative October 5th hearing, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor would argue for the death penalty as a representative of the state, while Jones would be able to speak for 20 minutes after his attorneys finish their arguments.
Governor Stitt would then have only 23 days to act on the final recommendation of the Board before the October 28 execution, if the Court of Criminal Appeals approves that date in the coming days. Oklahoma is one of eight states that must have the recommendation from the Parole Board to grant clemency, according to officials at the meeting.
In a press release sent out Tuesday afternoon, Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, leader of the Justice for Julius campaign, expressed disappointment in the pending cancelation of the commutation hearing. She expressed hope, however, that the Pardon and Parole Board would get to hear directly from Julius at the tentative October clemency hearing.
“Every day that Julius is behind bars, unable to tell the story of his innocence, is a painful day for him and for his family,” Jones-Davis said in a statement.
“We appreciate, however, the Pardon and Parole Board’s stated interest in conducting a robust hearing, reviewing the facts of Julius’ case, and hearing from him directly.”
Supporters urged Board members to maintain Sept. commutation hearing
Ahead of the vote, Oklahoma City Black Lives Matter leader Rev. Sheri T. Dickerson urged supporters to attend the impromptu meeting to advocate for Jones’ life.
In a Facebook live video taken from a hospital bed, Rev. Dickerson explained that she wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting herself, and asked friends, activists and advocates to ask the Board that they move forward with a commutation hearing for Julius Jones.
“Go up there and show your support. Take signs, take your bodies, take your energy. And let’s continue to fight for our brother,” Rev. Dickerson said.
Instead, the board moved immediately to adopt a policy that would trigger a cancelation of the commutation hearing, which had been scheduled since March.
A newly scheduled clemency hearing is poised to take its place on Tuesday, October 5 at 9 a.m. It represents Julius Jones’ last chance at arguing his innocence. The hearing will come just weeks before the state moves to execute him, if the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals approves AG O’Connor’s request for an October 28 execution date.
Julius Jones has maintained his innocence for over 20 years
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. Additionally, a recent poll conducted by Amber Integrated found 6 in 10 Oklahomans support commutation for Julius Jones.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor determined to resume executions
The latest action by Oklahoma AG O’Connor has many wondering whether the crime obstruction of justice applies to state officials who attempt to influence the decisions of parole board members before they’ve even conducted a hearing.
Some Oklahoma residents had already accused Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater of obstructing justice when he filed a lawsuit against parole board members and Governor Kevin Stitt, asserting improper proceedings and a conflict of interest in some commutation cases.
Significantly, AG O’Connor, who has requested an execution date of October 28 for Julius Jones, was not even elected by the people of Oklahoma. Governor Stitt appointed him to the office after former Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter resigned as news reports began to surface citing an extramarital affair.
Tuesday’s vote by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board means the stakes could not be higher. If Jones’ case moves to a newly scheduled October 5th clemency hearing, the Board can go as far as recommending an immediate release, or it can recommend no change in Julius Jones’ pending death sentence.
“Julius, his family, and his legal counsel will be ready to put on a strong and powerful case that Julius’ death sentence and conviction were a grave miscarriage of justice, and that the state’s best option for correcting this mistake is to commute his sentence to time-served and release him from prison,” Rev. Jones-Davis said.