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Defense attorneys for death row detainee Julius Jones and prosecutors for the State will meet in front of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board for a clemency hearing on Tuesday, October 26.
Jones has maintained his innocence for over 20 years in the 1999 murder of Edmond man Paul Howell, who was killed during a car jacking in his driveway. In a historic September hearing, the Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend life with the possibility of parole for Jones. It’s the first time the state body has ever made such a recommendation for a death row inmate.
Jones argues his 1999 trial was plagued with an ineffective council, prosecutorial misconduct, and racial bias among at least one juror, according to his petition for clemency.
“These and other systemic failures led to Julius’s wrongful conviction. They are the very same failures that were identified in the 2017 bipartisan Report of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission as creating “the unacceptable risk of executing the innocent[.]” the petition reads.
DA Prater, Oklahoma AG O’Connor interfere in commutation proceedings
Meanwhile, the commutation process for Julius Jones has been plagued by interference from the state’s top attorneys. Even after a federal appeals court reinstated Jones and others into a lawsuit challenging the protocol for Oklahoma’s executions, attorneys for the state aren’t satisfied with anything less than death.
For months, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has sought to silence and remove members Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle from voting in the Julius Jones case. The two work for organizations that assist marginalized Oklahomans, including recently released prisoners.
Yet, while DA Prater considers their participation a conflict of interest, he said nothing about Board member Richard Smothermon, the one person who voted against Jones’ commutation recommendation and who has former ties to DA Prater. Smothermon, a former district attorney himself, has collaborated with DA Prater in the past as members of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council (DAC).
Conversely, Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle are both leaders of community organizations and were appointed by Governor Kevin Stitt. The governor will ultimately have the power to decide whether Jones lives or dies.
Stitt ignored the September recommendation for commutation. He won’t make a decision in the case until after the Oct. 26 clemency hearing, calling it a “more appropriate” venue to make final determinations. Unlike at the September commutation hearing, at next week’s clemency hearing Jones will have the opportunity to address the Board directly for the first time.
Oklahoma Supreme Court declines DA Prater’s request, AG O’Connor files same request
On Monday, October 18, the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied a request by DA Prater to remove Luck and Doyle from voting on the Board.
“The request…directing Respondents to disqualify from participation in the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board proceedings relating to inmate Julius Darius Jones is hereby denied,” the Court wrote. It dealt another blow to DA Prater’s attempts to intimidate, obstruct and interfere in the administrative duties of a state body.
Meanwhile, Attorney General John O’Connor, who was appointed by Governor Kevin Stitt, filed an identical request to have Board members removed on the same day DA Prater’s request was denied. “Petitioner requests that this matter be placed on a Fast Track Docket so it may be disposed of before the currently scheduled clemency hearing,” O’Connor wrote to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
American Bar Association rated Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor “unqualified”
Though the Oklahoma Attorney General is an elected position, Governor Stitt appointed John O’Connor to the top lawyer spot after former AG Mike Hunter resigned earlier this year, citing marital issues.
Yet, before being handpicked to oversee Oklahoma’s laws, the American Bar Association didn’t think O’Connor was qualified to be a federal judge.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary rates federal judicial nominees. In 2018, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee considered Tulsa attorney O’Connor, who was nominated by then-President Trump to hold a federal judge position in Oklahoma.
Yet, the 15-member committee voted unanimously to rate O’Connor as unqualified, according to a report in the Oklahoman. It came as just the fifth unanimous vote against a nominee in the rating’s 60-year history. Even Donald Trump, who has appointed unqualified and far-right nominees to federal judge positions around the country, eventually withdrew his nomination for O’Connor in 2019.
“The confidential peer review revealed several instances of ethical concerns including candor with the court, evidence of overbilling of clients & billing practices criticized by courts, an improper ex parte communication with a court, & improper contact with adverse parties in litigation,” the report stated.
Days away from the due process clemency hearing for death row inmate Julius Jones, an Oklahoma Attorney General that was considered unanimously unqualified by the American Bar Association believes he has standing to obstruct a legal proceeding.
Judge declines activists’ petition application to investigate DA Prater
The actions by DA Prater and Attorney General John O’Connor have raised concerns that the state’s top attorneys are colluding with each other to deny Julius Jones due process, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The latest filing comes after a district Judge denied a petition application from activists wanting to convene a citizens grand jury to investigate DA Prater.
“David Prater is what the dirtiest parts of the American justice system looks like,” Tiffany Loftin, a senior advisor with the Grassroots Law Project, said at an October 6 press conference announcing the effort. The petition application requires the presiding district judge to approve or deny the petition within four days of filing.
On October 14, days past the deadline, The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Judge Ray Elliot’s office to determine the status of the petition application. We were told Elliot recused himself. Activists have accused Judge Ray Elliot of being a racist who has colluded with DA Prater. Notably, Elliot’s wife, Sandra, was the prosecutor in Julius Jones’ 1999 trial. She also argued for the state to kill him at September’s commutation hearing.
Relatives, supporters pray for clemency
We were told Oklahoma County District Judge Don Andrews had taken over the petition after Judge Elliot’s recusal. However, on Tuesday, October 19, it was confirmed that Oklahoma County Judge Richard Ogden had presided over the petition. He ultimately denied the activists’ application to convene a citizens grand jury that would investigate DA Prater, according to NonDoc. The petitioners have less than two days to make amendments and resubmit the petition application.
“We appreciate Judge Ogden giving the petitioners a timely order,” Activist Jess Eddy told NonDoc. “We are reviewing Judge Ogden’s order, and the petitioners will respond more fully as soon as possible.”
As the nation watches DA Prater and AG O’Connor continue to interfere in Jones’ case, relatives and supporters of Julius Darus Jones pray that Governor Kevin Stitt will thoroughly review the evidence, acknowledge the severe level of doubt in the case, and grant clemency for Jones.