By Senior Editor Erika Stone and Managing Editor Deon Osborne
While the fate of death row inmate Julius Jones rests with Governor Kevin Stitt, a group of Oklahoma lawmakers are having their say in the matter. Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-OKC) and Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman) are urging their constituents to call Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, asking that he follow the recommendation from the Pardon and Parole Board to commute Jones’ death sentence to life with the possibility of parole.
Weeks ago, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to commute the death sentence for Julius Jones, who’s been on death row for over 20 years for the 1999 murder of Edmond man Paul Howell.
Now, the decision rests with Governor Stitt, who has remained noticeably silent on the matter, as Jones faces an upcoming execution date. The November 18 execution date approaches despite the state Pardon and Parole Board’s first ever commutation recommendation for a death row inmate, evidence of racial bias, an ineffective council, and statements from inmates claiming co-defendant Chris Jordan admitted to framing Jones for the murder.
Even as 6 in 10 Oklahomans expressed they want the governor to commute Jones’ sentence, Stitt’s silence has added to the confusion and doubt plaguing the process.
Oklahoma legislators voice support for Julius Jones
Penetrating the silence, two state lawmakers have come out in support of Jones in recent days.
Oklahoma state Representative Mickey Dollens (D-OKC) wrote on Facebook, “It bears repeating: The discrepancies and reasonable doubt in this case allowed Julius to receive a commutation hearing from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board where they voted in favor of commuting his sentence to life with the possibility of parole.”
“This is the first time in the history of our state that a person on death row has been given a commutation hearing. Help save his life by contacting Governor Kevin Stitt at justiceforjuliusjones.com/action. Please ask him to approve the decision made by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board before it’s too late,” Rep. Dollens added.
Another Oklahoma legislator, state Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman), wrote on Facebook, “Julius graduated in the top 10% of his class and was attending OU on an academic scholarship at the time he was wrongfully accused. Due to racial bias (yes, that’s a real and ongoing issue), inadequate defense, and a complete miscarriage of justice, Julius was convicted and sentenced to death.”
Rosecrants reiterated Rep. Dollens’ request for residents to call Governor Stitt.
Obstruction from state’s attorneys overshadow commutation recommendation
The calls to action come after months of obstruction in Julius Jones’ commutation process from elected and unelected officials sworn to uphold justice.
The first ever recommendation for commutation for a Oklahoma death row inmate hasn’t come easy. Even before the Pardon and Parole Board made its historic September 13 vote 3-1 in favor of Jones, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has lashed out at and attempted to sue Board members and the governor in order to shut down the process.
Moreover, the November 18 execution date was scheduled because unelected Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set dates even before the Pardon and Parole Board had a chance to vote on Jones’ case.
The legal maneuvers from DA Prater and AG O’Connor have raised claims of racial bias, not only in the trial and sentencing phase of Jones’ case, but in the commutation and clemency phase as well. Importantly, Jones has maintained his innocence for nearly a quarter of a century.
Supporters appeal to national media as time runs out
Advocates for Julius Jones and his family have recently appeared on national media outlets, inspiring growing support for his case.
Reverend Cece Jones-Davis, a leader of the Justice for Julius campaign, recently went on “The Real” to talk about his case, along with Mr. Jones’ sister, Antoinette, who for two decades has said that Mr. Jones was home on the night of Mr. Howell’s murder.
Reverend Jones-Davis noted that pivotal information was not provided by the defense, and that one of Mr. Jones’ attorneys had only recently passed the Oklahoma bar exam. As far as her personal attachment to the case, Reverend Jones-Davis stated, “I could not rest knowing that someone could wrongfully be on death row.”
Mr. Jones’ supporters also include Connie Ellison, whose former boyfriend was the victim of the crime for which supporters say Julius has been wrongfully convicted.