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Members of Oklahoma’s Legislative Black Caucus voiced support for death row detainee Julius Jones and called on Governor Kevin Stitt to approve the clemency recommendation from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board during an 11 a.m. press conference on Wednesday.
Days ago, on November 1, the Board approved a historic 3-1 vote to recommend clemency and a commuted sentence for Julius Jones, who’s maintained his innocence for 22 years in the carjacking-turned-murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. The vote followed a previous commutation hearing in September, when the Board voted 3-1 for commuting the death sentence to life with the possibility of parole.
Black Caucus members of the state Legislature confirmed they’d gotten to meet with Julius Jones in recent months and expressed support for his release.
“For a person to be in prison, or incarcerated for the last 20 years, he had hope,” Rep. Jason Lowe (D-OKC) said at the press conference. “He wants to help kids. He wants to make a difference in communities across this state.”
Black Caucus asks Gov. to follow clemency recommendation
Reporters at the press conference asked Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) why he feels confident Governor Kevin Stitt will choose to accept clemency.
“I have no insight into his thinking but so much of that confidence comes from, I know in the early stages, he wanted to make sure the process fully runs its course. That process fully ran its course and there being consistency every single time about the recommendation coming forth,” Rep. Nichols said.
Following the September vote by the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend a commuted sentence for Jones, Gov. Stitt indicated he would wait until after the clemency hearing took place before making a final decision. As Jones’ November 18 execution date draws closer, people across the state and across the nation wait for his announcement.
When asked what the reaction would be if Gov. Stitt chose to approve life without parole instead of life with parole, Black Caucus member and state Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) was clear in her response.
“We’re not even talking about political prices here. We’re talking about the price of a life. We’re talking about the price of a family [whose] son has been incarcerated for some 22 years. And we’re saying if you have not committed the murder, why in the world would you spend the rest of your life in prison? It’s that simple. We’re asking that folks just use the good sense that God has given us.”
Pardon and Parole Board twice voted in support of Julius Jones
Notably, assistant federal public defender Amanda Bass successfully argued for her client Julius Jones twice now, highlighting the racial bias of a jury member who called for Jones’ lynching, prosecutorial misconduct, and an ineffective council, which advised Jones and his family to never take the stand.
Jones spoke for the first time to the Pardon and Parole Board on Monday.
“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.
Jones spoke about how he shouldn’t have hung around Christopher Jordan, who was charged as Jones’ co-defendant. Jordan took a plea deal with the prosecution in exchange for placing the murder squarely on Jones. Jordan eventually served only 15 years of a 30-year sentence. In recent years, as many as four inmates have signed affidavits testifying that Christopher Jordan admitted to framing Jones for the murder.
News 9 biased against Julius Jones
Meanwhile, local news stations in Oklahoma are barely containing their biased desire to see another Black man executed in the state. Using the pain of the Howell family as a bullhorn, outlets such as News 9 are waging a campaign to convince Gov. Stitt that Jones deserves death for a crime he’s never confessed to and one riddled with reasonable doubt as evidence points away from Jones and toward Christopher Jordan.
“Most of the pro-Jones publications have stated that his trial “was marred by racism, ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, unreliable testimony and faulty evidence.” News 9 reporter Lisa Monahan wrote on Wednesday, October 20, over a month after the Pardon and Parole had already recommended commuting Jones’ sentence due to reasonable doubt.
In recent years, a former juror on the 1999 trial came forward saying a fellow juror called for the group to immediately lynch Julius Jones instead of holding a trial. That fact failed to appear in Monihan’s report.
Yet, Monihan made sure to include statements from the family that allege Jones is a dangerous man that would harm Oklahomans if released.
“I just wish people would take time and realize how hurtful it is to our family.” Megan Howell said as the Jones movement gained momentum, she became more fearful for her safety. “You know they are revictimizing us, Julius Jones is revictimizing us.”
Jones family prays for Howell family
Despite the concerns from relatives of Paul Howell, the only references the Jones family has made to the Howell family has been prayers supporting their healing and hopes that justice will eventually be served for them.
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.” Julius Jones said during Monday’s clemency hearing, in which he revealed he prays for the Howell family daily.
“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.” Jones’ mother, Madeline “Mama” Davis-Jones added on Monday.
In addition to the millions of Americans who support Julius Jones’ innocence and the 60 percent of surveyed Oklahomans who believe Gov. Stitt should commute Jones’ sentence, conservative voiced have also begun to raise the alarm, urging Gov. Stitt to follow the clemency recommendation approved by Board members he himself appointed.
Conservatives across the state, nation call for clemency
In a letter sent to Governor Stitt on October 22nd, The American Conservative Union and the Faith and Freedom Coalition called on the Governor to commute Julius’s sentence.
“Our belief is that when the death penalty is imposed, it should be done so only in the gravest circumstances,” the letter reads. “And even then, only when there is absolutely no question of the defendant’s guilt.”
Moreover, Matt Schlapp, Chairman of the American Conservative Union and Timothy Head, Executive Director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, wrote to Governor Stitt, saying “…as representatives of staunchly pro-life organizations, we believe that taking an innocent life – whether a baby in its mother’s womb or a wrongly convicted adult – is wrong. As long as that outcome is possible, we believe one must err on the side of life. Accordingly, we urge you to commute Julius Jones’ sentence.” Their letter is available here.
In a recent op-ed, available here, Kelli Masters, former appointee to the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility Tribunal, wrote: “I believe in law and order, that crime victims deserve justice, and that our justice system works most of the time. But I also believe — after considering all the evidence — that our justice system failed in Julius Jones’ case and is at risk of sending an innocent man to his death. Executing a man for a crime he didn’t commit is not justice. Our laws exist to protect the rights of the innocent. How can we say we are for law and order if we don’t protect the life of Julius Jones?”
Bishop T.D. Jakes sends letter to Gov. Stitt
Craig DeRoche, the former President of the Justice Fellowship and the former Republican Speaker of the Michigan State House, expressed similar concerns, in a letter available here. “It appears to me that Julius is most likely innocent, and even if he was tangentially involved would have been released for time served long ago under Oklahoma law,” he wrote to Governor Stitt.
Mr. DeRoche added, “You have the power to correct this injustice that carries with it life-and-death consequences.” Mr. DeRoche drew the Governor’s attention to Matthew 25:36-40, and noted that “Judeo-Christian values balance personal responsibility with forgiveness and mercy.”
Bishop T.D. Jakes, the bishop of The Potter’s House and another renowned Evangelical leader, has also urged Governor Stitt to commute Julius Jones’s death sentence.
In his letter, available here, he pointed to the evidence of Mr. Jones’s innocence and the many problems in his trial, expressing hope that the Governor would offer Julius a second chance. “While this case has garnered national attention,” Bishop Jakes wrote, “it is not from that outcry that I appeal to you today, but one of genuine concern for this individual case and the loss that has ensued.”
Bishop Jakes also stressed that “Mr. Jones has served over 21 years, which far surpasses the time served by the co-defendant, who is said to have confessed to the crime while in prison and better fits the witness description.”
Prayer call scheduled for November 9
In their letter, available here, the National African American Clergy Network wrote: “As ministers of the Gospel, our hope relies on the justice and mercy of God found in Jesus Christ. As clergy, we believe an injustice has occurred, and we are calling on your authority to correct it.”
In a recent National Faith Call organized by Minister Keith Jossell, Evangelical leaders in Oklahoma and around the country urged Governor Stitt to draw on his faith and grant clemency to Mr. Jones. Among these faith leaders, the Reverend Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and a world-renowned activist for peace and justice, expressed grave concern about the racial bias that infected Mr. Jones’s trial. He urged Governor Stitt to make a decision based on truth and justice. “We pray for faith leaders of Oklahoma and all those around the country. May we be made aware that this historic decision will test, literally, the witness and integrity of the church.”
Governor Stitt also has received letters supporting Mr. Jones’s clemency request from a group of Oklahoma and national Evangelical leaders; the Oklahoma Black Ministers Alliance; Republican State Representative Kevin McDugle; Bryan Stevenson, head of the Equal Justice Initiative; Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and head of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights; Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform; Witness to Innocence; and several others. Letters are available here
Another Oklahoma Faith Leader Prayer Call on behalf of Mr. Jones is scheduled for Tuesday, November 9 at 7 pm CT. Those wishing to participate can RSVP here.