Julius Jones will be barred from participating in the second stage of his commutation hearing because of two prison infractions he allegedly committed in 2020, according to records reviewed by The Frontier.
Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board executive director Tom Bates also said prisoners in maximum security prisons are barred from making “personal appearances” at their hearings, a rule that would seemingly keep all future death row prisoners from making appearances before the board.
“This is for logistical and safety reasons and is a policy with which the Department of Corrections concurs,” Bates wrote.
Jones’ attorney, Dale Baich, said he was not aware of a Pardon and Parole Board rule that would keep maximum security prisoners from appearing via video conference during their hearings.
And Jones’ next hearing for the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to consider commuting his death sentence is on hold until at least September. The hearing has been delayed for several months as the board puts in place new rules for an “Enhanced Stage Two” commutation hearing. The Pardon and Parole Board voted 3 to 1 to pass Jones to the second stage of the commutation process in February.
Jones received two citations for misconduct in prison in 2020, Bates said in a recent letter to Baich.
Pardon and Parole Board rules bar prisoners who receive misconducts after requesting a commutation from from taking part in the second stage of their hearing. Jones’ commutation application was filed in October 2019.
The Frontier asked the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for copies of the misconduct reports, but has not yet received them. However, the misconduct reports are filed as attachments in a letter Baich sent to Bates earlier this month.
Jones, who is housed by himself in a prison cell in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, was alleged to have a cell phone charger in his cell on March 6, 2020, according to a letter Baich sent to Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crowe. Prison records state the charger was “hidden in some arts and crafts items.”
The document stated Jones refused to sign the misconduct paperwork and that he denied having a cell phone charger.
A later evidence review from a hearing officer who reviews allegations of prisoner misconduct referred to the offense as “possession of cell phone paraphernalia” and wrote that the evidence was a “Black cell phone charging cord.”
Baich said in the letter that Jones had been removed from his cell that day, strip-searched, and placed “semi-naked” in a shower while his property was confiscated.
Jones was not found to have a cell phone in his cell, Baich said in a subsequent letter to Bates.
“He was immediately placed in a maximum security cell for several days without access to a phone — which meant that he was also prevented from placing legal calls,” Baich wrote.
Prison officials eventually found Jones guilty of the offense and he was sanctioned with 90 days of no visitation, no canteen access and no telephone calls in order “to deter any future negative behavior,” according to the disciplinary hearing report.
Baich sought video of Jones being removed from his cell as well as a photograph of the cell phone charger. He said Gary Elliott, DOC’s general counsel, responded in an email with an “unidentifiable … giant, black-and-white photocopy of a photograph” and neglected to send video of Jones being removed from his cell.
Prison officials also gave Jones a misconduct in April 2020 for an unauthorized conference call he placed two months earlier, Baich wrote. Baich said Jones called his sister at a rally in Tulsa, and she placed him on speaker phone so he could talk to the assembled crowd “to thank those who were present for their support.”
Baich wrote that he believes “the timing of the investigation into Mr. Jones’s phone usage is suspect” and he believes Jones “was targeted (by DOC) for retaliatory action.”
Baich said there’s no DOC rule against using prison phones to call someone on a prisoner’s authorized phone list and “that person’s subsequent use of their phone’s speakerphone function.”
“The absence of any such policy makes good sense,” Baich wrote, “since a prisoner would otherwise risk being written up every time he called a family member who subsequently placed him on speakerphone.”
The September date Bates mentioned in his letter is because the board, which typically only spends a few minutes discussing a case during the final stage of a commutation hearing, wants more time to consider death row cases.
Death row prisoners previously only appeared before the board for clemency hearings once an execution date is set in their case. But last summer, the board learned that death row prisoners could appear before the board to request a commutation. Board members determined their existing rules “were inadequate for considering” death row cases, Bates wrote, so they adopted new rules that allowed for “expanded speaking times” if necessary.
But the board can’t vote on expanding those hearings for death row cases until the meeting Sept. 13-15, Bates wrote, because the rules are “currently under review” by legislators and Gov. Kevin Stitt.