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Confusion has engulfed the commutation process for Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones in recent weeks. Adding to the chaos, on Wednesday, Oklahoma County’s district attorney asked the state’s Supreme Court to disqualify two parole board members.
Jones has been on Oklahoma’s death row for two decades for the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. Howell was murdered in his driveway during a carjacking.
Chris Jordan, a co-defendant, worked with prosecutors to place blame for the murder squarely on Jones, while Jones has maintained that Jordan spent the night at his house and framed him by leaving a worn bandana in his room.
State prosecutors intervene in commutation process
His 1999 trial was riddled with an allegedly racist juror, an ineffective counsel, and no one from his family was allowed to testify on his behalf.
In March, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board approved the second stage of a commutation hearing for Jones on Monday, Sept 13. That date was thrown into doubt when Oklahoma’s newly appointed Attorney General John O’Connor made a request to set execution dates for Jones and six other detainees, citing they’d exhausted their appeals.
Near the end of August, AG O’Connor asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set an October 28 execution date for Julius Jones. Following the request, the Pardon and Parole Board anticipated that the Court would approve the execution dates. So, days after the AG’s request, the Board convened an emergency meeting, in which it voted to prepare to hold a clemency hearing for Jones on October 5.
OKLAHOMA ATTORNEY GENERAL REQUESTS EXECUTION DATE FOR JULIUS JONES DESPITE UPCOMING COMMUTATION HEARING
Court declines to set execution date, commutation hearing expected on Monday
“Mr. Jones will be given the right to speak to the board for 20 minutes at the clemency hearing,” Director Bates said at the end of August, when they were expecting an October 5 clemency hearing.
But since then, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has remained silent, refusing to approve the execution dates. Since the state requires detainees be given 35-days notice before any execution, AG O’Connor most recently asked the Court to push back his requested dates for executions, according to the Associated Press.
With the new request for a later execution date for Jones, the action has opened the door for the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to resume the previously scheduled commutation hearing on Sept. 13.
Both sides of the case—the defense attorneys for Jones and Oklahoma’s attorney general—expected the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to approve the execution dates by now.
“That hasn’t happened. So it would default back to the 9/13 commutation hearing if something doesn’t change between now and Friday at 5pm,” a representative for Julius Jones told The Black Wall St. Times in an email.
Oklahoma DA seeks to nullify Parole Board members from voting
The approaching commutation hearing date comes as Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater continues a campaign to eliminate members from the Pardon and Parole Board whom he believes have a conflict of interest in Jones’ case.
Months ago, DA Prater sued the Board and Oklahoma Governor Stitt, urging them not to allow conflicts of interests to sway any commutation decisions for death row inmates.
Governor Stitt pushed back at the time, saying “We are not intimidated by political hit jobs disguised as ‘lawsuits’ in a desperate cry for publicity,” his office said at the time,” according to the Oklahoman.
This time, DA Prater is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to disqualify Pardon and Parole Board Chairman Adam Luck and member Kelly Doyle. Both lead nonprofit organizations that work with people in poverty and support recently released prisoners.
Luck is CEO of City Care, which received more than $1.6 million dollars in government funding, according to Prater’s disqualification request.
Meanwhile, Doyle oversees the Center for Employment Opportunities, which has received over $1.8 million from state government entities, a DA investigator reported.
Yet, it’s unclear how working for organizations that support marginalized Oklahomans disqualifies Board members from executing their duties anymore than DA Prater’s efforts to intervene in their commutation proceedings disqualify him from executing his role in an unbiased manner.
Support for Julius Jones grows
DA Prater’s efforts to obstruct the Parole Board’s proceedings come after at least one poll showed 6 in 10 Oklahomans support commutation for Julius Jones, in addition to the over 6 million signatures on a petition calling for his release.
His supporters organized a week of action at the beginning of September, when a group of exonerated former death row detainees voiced their support for Julius Jones’ commutation at the Oklahoma state Capitol.
In a Facebook video on Thursday, Justice for Julius Jones organizer Cece Jones-Davis confirmed the Sept 13 commutation hearing.
“As of today the Court of Criminal Appeals has not confirmed those [execution] dates. So, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has decided they’re going to move forward” with the scheduled commutation hearing, Jones-Davis said.
“As you can imagine the district attorney is not pleased that the board plans to move ahead with hearing Julius’ case on Monday,” she added.
“We have built a human chain and we are pulling Julius Jones out of the grips of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.”