For the second time in as many months, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend a commuted sentence to life with the possibility of parole for death row detainee Julius Jones.
The latest vote for clemency adds to a previous 3-1 vote for a commuted sentence from the same Board in September. While Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt refused to accept the previous recommendation, he’s stated he would give consideration to the resulting recommendation from today’s clemency hearing. The October clemency vote fell along the same lines as the September commutation vote.
Board members Adam Luck, Kelly Doyle, and Larry Morris voted for life, while Richard Smothermon voted for death. Out of concern for DA David Prater’s ongoing investigation into the Board, member Scott Williams once again recused himself from the vote. Notably, DA Prater has not voiced intentions to investigate his former District Attorneys Council colleague Richard Smothermon, who was clear in his desire for Jones to face the death chamber.
First time Julius Jones speaks before Board since being put on death row
Despite being held in a death watch chamber close to where John Grant’s botched execution took place days earlier, Julius Jones eloquently addressed the Board to argue his innocence for the first time in decades at his historic clemency hearing on Monday, November 1.
“I don’t want any young person to make the same mistakes I’ve made by associating with the wrong people,” Jones told the Pardon and Parole Board. “I don’t want anyone living with the deep regret I feel about the dumb decisions I’ve made in my childhood in putting myself in situations to be blamed for things I didn’t do.”
Julius Jones: I made mistakes in my youth, but I did not kill Paul Howell
After the Board first heard from Jones’ assistant federal public defense attorney Amanda Bass, county prosecutors, and the Howell family, which continues to call for Jones’ execution on November 18, Julius Jones spent roughly 20 minutes walking the members of the Board through his childhood.
He explained how he was a star basketball player on the John Marshall High School team. Though not in poverty, his desire to fit in led him to committing acts of larceny in order to obtain things his family couldn’t afford, Jones told the Board. He eventually crossed paths with a man named Christopher Jordan, who would eventually become Jones’ co-defendant in the trial of the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.
Jones explained that he knew Jordan wasn’t a good person to hang around, but wanted to help him. Jones admitted to making mistakes in his youth, but ultimately denied playing any part in the car jacking that led to Howell’s death. He noted how Jordan spent the night at his house the evening of the murder and maintains that Jordan planted evidence framing Jones for the murder.
Amanda Bass, a Black woman, successfully defended her client Julius Jones
For their part, the prosecution attempted to paint Jones as a thuggish youth who deserves death for his crimes as a child even if there’s reasonable doubt that he killed Paul Howell. They maximized alleged crimes he was never convicted for and minimized evidence favoring Jones’ innocence, such as the racist juror who called for Jones to be lynched outside the Courthouse.
Meanwhile, assistant federal public defense attorney Amanda Bass poked holes in the prosecution’s arguments, pointing to the fact that Christopher Jordan spent only 15 years in prison after cooperating with prosecutors to place the blame on Julius Jones.
“Mistakes were made by the various actors in it. From the police, who early on coached Christopher Jordan on the narrative of Julius’s guilt that he ultimately testified to, to the prosecutors in this case, who unbeknownst to the jury, built their case against Julius on professional informants, on junk forensic science, and on a backdoor deal with Christopher Jordan that guaranteed his release in just 15 years,” Assistant federal public defender Amanda Bass told the Pardon and Parole Board on Monday.
Julius Jones wants to mentor at-risk youth
Even before his hearing for clemency, Julius Jones has already prepared for re-entering society if given a second chance.
If granted life and freedom, he wants to launch a nonprofit that reaches out to at-risk youth.
“I pray for the opportunity to continue doing this as a contributing member of society and hopefully someday as a free man. Thank you to this Pardon and Parole Board. Thank you to all the people who have taken the time to fully listen to my story. It’s all those near and far who have supported me over the years. And my sincerest prayers are with the Howell family, always.”
“Mama” Jones pleads for the return of her son
Madeline “Mama” Davis-Jones, Julius’ mother, released a statement following the historic recommendation.
“My son Julius has been on death row for over twenty years for a murder he did not commit, and every day of that has been a waking nightmare for my family. I am grateful to the Pardon and Parole Board for again showing they are willing to listen to facts and reason, show compassion, and do what is in their power to right this terrible wrong. Now, I am asking Gov. Stitt to do the same by accepting their recommendation.”
“I also continue to pray for the Howell family who have suffered greatly,” “Mama” Jones added. “I know what it is like to have a loved one ripped away from you and to constantly relive that loss. I hope and pray they find healing and peace.”
With at least four people having testified that Jordan admitted to the murder while in prison, the decision on whether to grant clemency for Julius Jones and his potential release from prison now rest with Gov. Stitt as the November 18 execution date looms.
“Governor Stitt is aware of the Pardon and Parole Board’s vote today. Our office will not offer further comment until the Governor has made a final decision,” Communications Director Carly Atchison said in a statement.