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Sunday mornings in Oklahoma are a time when some flock to predominantly White churches while others flock to predominantly Black churches. Similarly, justice in Oklahoma is often just as segregated. Yet newly elected Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond stands in a position to balance the scales for Julius Jones.
AG Drummond recently took the astronomically rare step of conducting an independent review of the case of Richard Glossip, a man who has spent nearly 25 years on death row for a crime he says he didn’t commit. After the review, AG Drummond filed a motion on April 6 to vacate Glossip’s conviction.
“The State has reached the difficult conclusion that justice requires setting aside Glossip’s conviction and remanding the case to the district court,” the motion stated.
I applaud AG Drummond’s decision and his dedication to ensuring the law is applied justly and fairly. In Glossip’s case, state prosecutors hid evidence from his defense team in a trial filled with errors that cast doubt on Glossip’s guilt.
It’s in that same vein that I wholeheartedly urge AG Drummond to likewise conduct an independent review of the case of Julius Jones.
The case of Julius Jones is still relevant
For over 20 years, Jones sat on death row for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit in a case filled with racial bias, alleged prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective counsel. Convicted for the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell in 1999, Jones toiled in a death chamber despite a former co-defendant admitting to the criminal act.
Jones was spared from the death penalty just hours before his planned execution after millions of supporters across the world petitioned, protested and pleaded with Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt to look into his case.
Stitt ultimately commuted his death sentence but ignored two recommendations from his own Pardon and Parole Board when he signed an executive order forcing Jones to spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Back in February, I asked Oklahoma AG Drummond if he would be willing to look into Julius Jones’ case.
“I don’t have any plans to look into his case right now since it was commuted,” AG Drummond said, adding that he would reconsider if “it becomes relevant again.”
I’m not sure why a potentially innocent man serving life in prison wouldn’t be relevant to the state’s top law enforcement officer, but it’s worth reminding the AG of three similarities between Glossip’s case and Julius Jones.
Similarities between Jones and Glossip
In announcing his intention to vacate Richard Glossip’s death sentence for the 1997 murder of his boss Baron Van Treese, AG Drummond described “multiple instances of error that cast doubt” on the conviction.
Jones also faced “errors” in his case. Along with being given counsel who later admitted they were ineffective, at least one juror was overheard saying the court should replace the trial with a lynching. Additionally, much of the evidence used to convict Jones involved an image that didn’t match Jones at the time of the crime. Moreover, DNA evidence was found inconclusive.
Secondly, in his motion to vacate Glossip’s conviction, AG Drummond added, “This is not to say I believe he is innocent. However, it is critical that Oklahomans have absolute faith that the death penalty is administered fairly and with certainty.” Julius Jones deserves the same thoughtful consideration.
A 2017 report from the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission highlighted numerous errors and injustices that bolstered their calls for an indefinite moratorium on executions, including the fact that prosecutors in Oklahoma are more likely to call for the death penalty when the victim is white.
Does that, along with the other issues stated above, not merit an independent review of Julius Jones’ case?
State of Oklahoma illegally interfered in both cases
Thirdly, in his motion regarding Glossip, Oklahoma AG Drummond noted that the state interfered in his case by hiding evidence, designated as “box 8.”
Likewise, former AG John O’Connor, who was ruled unqualified to serve as a federal judge by the American Bar Association, interfered in Julius Jones’ commutation and clemency proceedings at every turn.
O’Connor, along with former Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, repeatedly attempted to remove members of the Pardon and Parole Board whom they believed would vote in favor of Jones. So ardently against the idea of freeing a Black man, some state lawmakers have even proposed changing laws to make it impossible for the Parole Board to hear claims of innocence.
If that isn’t obstruction at the highest level, I don’t know what else to call it. At the very least, the similarities between errors and issues in both men’s cases require AG Drummond to conduct an independent review for Julius Jones. Failing to do so would be hypocritical at best and racially biased at worst.
Justice should apply equally to Julius Jones
Unlike many other Oklahoma officials, I don’t believe Oklahoma AG Drummond is racist. While I haven’t agreed with all of his decisions, AG Drummond has demonstrated a dedication to the rule of law, transparency and accountability among government officials.
Rooting out corruption in Oklahoma is a 25/8 job. I understand the attorney general has a lot on his plate, but justice requires each recipient receive an equitable portion of the pie.
Over six million people have signed a petition supporting freedom for Julius Jones. State leaders across the world, both liberal and conservative, contacted Governor Stitt urging him to reconsider Jones’ conviction.
There is weight behind the argument that Gov. Stitt’s executive order against Jones was political, and the pain the Jones family bears can’t be understated.
“That hurt. His executive order hurt. But I’m still optimistic, you know. I love and I’m grateful and I’m thankful that I have a relationship with God and that God touched his heart to stay Julius’s execution,” Antoinette Jones said last year.
Her brother Julius remains hopeful that a person representing true justice will reconsider his case.
“The truth should matter. The truth is I’m hurting because I’ve been treated this way. My family been treated this way. The Howell family been treated this way,” Julius Jones said last year. “They’ve been told lies. I didn’t take Mr. Paul Howell’s life. I want it to be acknowledged. I’m not gonna stop until it’s acknowledged.”