Relatives and supporters of high profile Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones are keeping faith for a clemency approval with prayer vigils launching in Oklahoma City and Tulsa on Friday, October 1 at 6 p.m. The vigils come as Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater continues to interfere with the Pardon and Parole Board.
Jones is scheduled for a November 18 execution for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. He’s maintained his innocence for over 20 years in a case plagued with racial bias, an ineffective council, and alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Recently, state legislators have added to the chorus of voices pleading with Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt to provide Jones clemency.
The Oklahoma City vigil takes place at the Oklahoma History Center, and the Tulsa vigil takes place at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. Both cities will hold vigils for Jones every day between Oct. 1 and Oct 15.
Vigils ahead of clemency hearing
The vigils come weeks after the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend commutation of Jones’ death sentence, citing doubts in the case after hearing from the murder victim’s family, State prosecutors, and Jones’ defense team. It represented the first time Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended commutation for a death row inmate in the state’s history.
Despite nearly 7 million signatures in support of Jones, Oklahoma Gov. Stitt announced he would not accept the board’s recommendation. He plans to instead allow for Jones to go through a final clemency hearing where Jones will be allowed to address the Board personally for the first time.
A “clemency hearing, not a commutation hearing, is the appropriate venue for our state to consider death row cases,” Stitt recently told the Pardon and Parole Board in an emailed statement.
DA Prater continues to interfere in Julius Jones case
Meanwhile, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who has long been at odds with the Board, continues to interfere in the Julius Jones case. His most recent action has raised conflict of interest concerns and heightened distrust of the criminal legal system among some Oklahomans.
DA Prater, not content with allowing the Board to act on its own, has requested the convening of a county grand jury to investigate the Pardon and Parole Board and the Oklahoma County Jail.
The Oklahoma County grand jury begins jury selection on Oct. 18 and will have power to issue subpoenas, investigate, charge, and make accusations for removal of Board members, according to The Oklahoman.
While DA Prater hasn’t cited Julius Jones’ historic commutation recommendation as the reason for the investigation, instead referring to the case of a different man who was allegedly released without proper authorization, he has a history of intimidating Board members ahead of their votes.
In March, DA Prater sued Governor Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board, attempting to block them from approving any commutations. Nevertheless, the Board voted to send Jones to the second stage of a commutation hearing. After months of delays, the Board held Jones’ hearing on Sept. 13, 2021, approving his request.
Does DA Prater have a history of politically-motivated investigations?
Before then, the Attorney General’s Office had been asked to investigate DA Prater after he allegedly fired an employee without cause. Former investigator William Muller, who worked for DA Prater, filed a tort claim for wrongful termination after he says he was asked to investigate criminal justice reform organizations.
Muller says he was fired after DA Prater became angry that his investigation found no wrongdoing by either Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform or the ACLU.
“Mr. Prater in his own words felt that any reform to criminal justice was ‘bull****,’” and that he was unlawfully seeking “incriminating or compromising” information about former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Kris Steele.,” according to KFOR in 2019. Kris Steele leads Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
Last year, DA Prater faced calls for his resignation at a sit-in protest at his office. The protest was organized by White allies after Prater charged Black and Brown protesters with terrorism during the George Floyd-inspired uprisings.
Judge who is married to prosecutor from Julius Jones’ commutation hearing will lead investigation
Now, DA Prater wants the county grand jury to investigate “credible allegations that involve official corruption and/or official neglect … committed by State and/or County officials.”
In his response, Gov. Stitt clapped back, calling Prater’s investigation “the latest political stunt to intimidate the Pardon and Parole Board and obstruct the Constitutional process as high-profile cases that his office prosecuted are being considered.”
Most alarming is the fact that the judge who agreed to convene DA Prater’s county grand jury investigation is married to the prosecutor who argued against Julius Jones’ commutation request.
Judge Ray Elliot, who has long been accused of racism by OKC residents of color, on Wednesday agreed to convene the grand jury at DA Prater’s request, The Oklahoman reported.
He’s married to Sandra Elliot, who argued against Jones at the September commutation hearing.
In the most recent of David Prater’s efforts to kill Julius Jones, he is now asking Judge Racist Ray Elliot—Julius Jones prosecutor Sandra Elliott’s husband—to convene a grand jury to investigate the Pardon and Parole Board. Smdh.
— Jess Eddy (@JessQuintonEddy) September 29, 2021
Prosecutor Sandra Elliot called out for double standard in state’s witnesses
Attorney Sandra Elliot came under fire from Board members when she asked them to ignore testimony from convicted felons who say co-defendant Christopher Jordan killed Paul Howell, not Julius Jones. Board members then asked her why she wanted to ignore testimony from one convicted felon when some of the witnesses she used to prosecute Jones were convicted felons as well.
“We can’t have all of the crimes that are committed be committed in front of Roman Catholic priests or Baptist ministers,” attorney Sandra Elliot said, defending the witnesses used in her argument.
For her part, federal public defender Amanda Bass, a Black woman who successfully defended Jones at the September commutation hearing, responded to Ms. Elliot’s claims at the meeting.
“They argue that these people have felony convictions and aren’t believable. And yet at the same time has asked you to credit the testimony of its central witnesses, all of whom were convicted felons and informants themselves,” Bass said.
Judge Ray Elliot accused of racism
For his part, Judge Ray Elliot has been accused of racism on at least one occasion. In December of 2010, Judge Elliot refused to step down from a trial after the defense accused him of being a racist. The case involved an Oklahoma City pharmacist named Jerome Ersland who shot a would-be robber.
In that case, the defense attorney said the judge should step down because his wife, a prosecutor, provided him with documents that favored the prosecution. He also admitted to using a derogatory term against undocumented immigrants, according to News 9.
“I regret making the comment. I apologize for making the comment. I am not a racist,” Elliott said at the time. Now, he will convene the investigation into the same Pardon and Parole Board that heard arguments from his wife, Sandra, against Julius Jones’ commutation request.
Jones will move to “death watch” on Oct. 15; clemency hearing on Oct. 26
As chaos around Jones’ clemency process continues, relatives say he’s staying as strong as he can, asking more about how his family and friends are doing rather than talking about his own mental state.
Meanwhile, the vigils intentionally lead up to October 15, when Jones will be moved from his current cell to a smaller room closer to the death chamber under what’s called “death watch.” Starting on Oct. 15, Jones will be under 24-hour surveillance with no personal belongings. The torture-like conditions will test Jones mental health days before his scheduled appearance at the clemency hearing.
On Oct. 26, Jones will participate in a clemency hearing in front of the Pardon and Parole Board, his last chance to argue for his life.
Jess Eddy is a law student and well-known anti-racist activist in Oklahoma City and a friend of the Jones family. He reacted to DA Prater’s investigation request in a recent live video hosted by The Black Wall Street Times.
“It’s corruption that we have never before seen in this county on this kind of level in broad view of the entire public,” Eddy said, adding that he and other activists will continue to support Julius Jones’ case for clemency.
Jones will speak at clemency hearing
As Oklahoma prepares to seek justice for one murder victim by creating another, supporters and relatives of Julius Jones hope Governor Stitt, a man of faith, will grant Jones clemency and chart a new course for the state’s infamous criminal legal system.
“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.”
For more information about events leading up to the clemency hearing, visit: Justiceforjulius.com.