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In the opening argument of every jury trial, the prosecution always utters these same words: “the prosecution will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt” or “beyond reasonable doubt”.
After the jury hears both sides and the closing arguments, the judge instructs the jury of the charges and informs them to not return a guilty verdict if there is even an ounce of doubt.
Frankly put, the jury got it wrong 22 years ago when it comes to Julius Jones. The state of Oklahoma doesn’t have to double down on that wrong by executing him.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Amanda Bass successfully showed reasonable doubt at September commutation hearing
For Julius Jones, there was enough reasonable doubt present to make Julius the first person in Oklahoma history to be given a commutation hearing after being sentenced to death. Not only was he given a commutation hearing, the Pardon and Parole Board voted in favor of commuting his death sentence to life with the possibility of parole, another first in Oklahoma history.
At the commutation hearing in front of the Pardon and Parole Board, Julius’ attorney Amanda Bass masterfully showed instance after instance of why there is enough reasonable doubt to free Julius from prison.
Bass showed how Julius’ trial lawyers were inexperienced, never having handled death penalty litigation before.
“They were under-resourced and over-worked, in way over their heads, did not call a single witness, did not call Julius himself to testify in Julius’ defense in the guilt stage of his trial. Had the jury heard this evidence of Julius’ innocence, we know because at least three jurors have said so in sworn affidavits, that it would have made a difference”.
Evidence adds to reasonable doubt
A finger print analysis eliminated Julius as a suspect in numerous robberies that prosecutors used to build a case against Julius in his murder trial. The DNA on the red bandana that the state used as a key piece of evidence was also “overstated and oversimplified,” Bass said.
DNA testing has improved since 1999, and so have the standards in determining matches. A partial profile of the DNA on the red bandana showed that Julius couldn’t be excluded, but it wasn’t conclusive that the DNA belonged to him. That’s reasonable doubt.
Another element Bass pointed out during the commutation hearing was the racial prejudice that took place during the trial. “We also know that systemic race prejudice played a role,” Bass said. She highlighted a sworn statement from a juror who said they heard another juror use the n-word and call for a lynching outside the courtroom before hearing all of the evidence. A racist juror, that’s reasonable doubt.
Prosecution used professional informants to place the blame on Jones
Two of the state’s key witnesses were people with prior felony convictions, a point the prosecution argued at the commutation hearing disqualified testimony from inmates who have come forward in recent years agreeing that Chris Jordan framed Julius Jones and bragged about making a deal with the prosecution.
Not only did the state’s key witnesses have felony convictions, they were professional, confidential informants for the Oklahoma County and Edmond police. That’s reasonable doubt.
An eye witness for the prosecution testified at the trial that she saw the shooter, saying “half an inch of hair was sticking out from underneath a stocking cap”.
Julius Jones should be freed
A photograph taken of Julius just days before the murder that was never shown to the jury would have shown that Julius’ hair was too short and he did not meet the description. Chris Jordan on the other hand did. That’s reasonable doubt.
Julius’ mom, dad, sister, and brother have all said unequivocally that Julius was at home at 9:30 on July 28,1999, the time of the murder, yet none of the family was ever called to testify at the trial. That’s reasonable doubt.
Commutation and clemency hearings are put in place precisely for this very reason: because our justice system sometimes gets it wrong. There was enough reasonable doubt at the trial to not warrant a guilty conviction, and there is far more evidence now that shows Julius should not have spent the last 22 years on death row.