Editor’s note: This story has been updated with text from an email sent by Pardon and Parole Board General Counsel Kyle Counts to Dale Baich, an attorney for Julius Jones and other death row inmates. The original headline, “Investigation by Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommends Julius Jones not be executed,” has been changed to reflect the assertions by the Pardon and Parole Board.
An investigator for the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board wrote in her report under “Investigator recommendation” that death row prisoner Julius Jones be granted life in prison, either with or without the possibility of parole.
Jones, 41, has spent two decades on death row for the 1999 killing of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. Jones has maintained his innocence and there’s been a groundswell of public support in recent years for his release from prison amid questions about the evidence in his case and the state’s history of bungled executions.
The report, compiled by Pardon and Parole Board investigator Lisa Reading, included a lengthy description of the views of both the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office and Jones himself. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has said for years he believes Jones is guilty of Howell’s murder, while Jones has said repeatedly that Chris Jordan killed Howell. Jordan, who testified against Jones, was also convicted of killing Howell, but served only 13 years in prison before being released.
Pardon and Parole Board General Counsel Kyle Counts did not respond to multiple phone call and email requests for comments from The Frontier for weeks leading up to the release of the document. However Counts did email Jones’ attorney Dale Baich to say that the Pardon and Parole Board does not consider the “recommendation” of the investigator to be an actual recommendation.
“Due to the high volume of commutation hearings held since 2019, the Board asked staff to include options for reduced sentences that are within range for the offense(s) being considered,” Counts said in the email, obtained by The Frontier.
Counts said in the email the possible reduced sentences are included under the “Investigator Recommendation” section due to a “software limitation.”
“The PPB’s investigator was not making a recommendation to the Board on how they should vote on Julius Jones’ commutation,” Counts wrote. “She was merely providing the options of ‘Life Without Parole’ or ‘Life’ as potential reduced sentences, as is the practice for all commutation considerations at a Stage II hearing.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater called Jones’ attorneys statement in the court filing that the “investigator’s recommendation” section is, in fact, a recommendation by the investigator, “a complete misrepresentation” and an “outright” lie.
“The killer’s attorneys have had the report for months and were completely aware of what the sentencing language meant,” he said. “Every word of their assertions, intended to manipulate the public and the Pardon and Parole Board are outright lies. The killer’s lies are a desperate attempt to avoid accountability for his cowardly and brutal murder of Paul Howell in front of his two young daughters.”
Jones’ attorneys filed that report on Friday as part of a packet of materials as they fight to keep Jones from being put to death. The filing came one day after Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for Jones and six other prisoners on death row. O’Connor has asked the court to set Jones’ execution for October 28.
Glossip was granted a last-minute stay by then-Gov. Mary Fallin after prison officials learned they had intended to execute Glossip by using a drug not included in the state’s lethal injection protocol.
O’Connor’s filing complicated Jones’ ongoing efforts to win a commuted sentence from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. After a lengthy process rife with drama, the Pardon and Parole Board granted Jones an unprecedented hearing. Jones is the first death row inmate to have a request for commutation heard by the Pardon and Parole Board. He passed the beginning stage of the commutation process earlier this year, and is scheduled for the second and final hearing on Sept. 13.
But the state’s request for an execution date has now thrown the status of Jones’ upcoming hearing into question. The Pardon and Parole Board also manages clemency hearings for death row inmates, and Tom Bates, the agency’s executive director, said that may now be a more appropriate path for Jones to take.
Clemency is similar to commutation, but is generally the last chance someone has at lessening their sentence. It’s also exceedingly rare that a death row inmate is granted clemency. The Death Penalty Information Center says Oklahoma has only granted clemency to a death row inmate four times since 1977.
Bates said that if the court does set an execution date for Jones, he would immediately be scheduled for a clemency hearing, which may make a commutation hearing redundant.
“The clemency hearing is actually a little more robust (than a commutation hearing,)” Bates said. He said representatives for Jones would have more time to make their case in a clemency hearing than in a commutation hearing, and that a clemency hearing would allow for Jones to appear virtually to speak on his own behalf, which he would not do in a commutation hearing.
The outcome of either hearing could end in the same place. Either way, the board will hear Jones’ case and make a recommendation to Gov. Stitt, who ultimately holds Jones’ fate in his hands.
The board is set to discuss the future of Jones’ commutation hearing on Tuesday, as well as a resumption of the clemency process for all death row inmates. None of the current board members were on staff when the last clemency hearing was held in 2015.
Two members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, released statements Friday critical of the state’s attempt to set an execution date for Jones.
“I am appalled that the attorney general would request a date for Mr. Jones’ execution before providing Mr. Jones and his legal team with the opportunity to present his case at his September 13 commutation hearing,” Lowe said. “It is actions like these that reinforce the public’s doubt and distrust in our criminal justice system.”
Lowe asked O’Connor to withdraw his request for an execution date.
“A commutation hearing was graciously and rightly set for September 13 to receive potentially life-saving information regarding Mr. Julius Jones,” Goodwin said in her statement. “AG O’Connor’s rushed request to execute on October 28, before all is heard, rips further into trust and attempts to also kill due process.”
O’Connor did not respond on Friday to requests for comment by The Frontier.
Attorneys for Jones also filed the commutation application that he filled out last year. In it, Jones admitted to doing “some stupid things in my life” and said he was “ashamed, embarrassed and repentant of” his “youthful actions.”
“But, as God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Paul Howell being shot and killed on July 28, 1999.”
Howell was carjacked and shot and killed in front of his daughters after they arrived home that day from a shopping trip. The gun used to kill Howell, as well as a bandana that police believe was worn by the person who shot Howell, were found in the attic above Jones’ room. The bandana had Jones’ DNA on it when it was tested years after the crime, but Jones has said that he did not play a role in either the carjacking or killing.
Jones said in his commutation application that Jordan admitted to spending the night at Jones’ parents house after killing Howell, and Jones said he believes Jordan “wrapped the gun used to murder Mr. Howell in a bandana and (planted) it in my bedroom.”
“I feel horribly for Mr. Howell and his family,” Jones wrote in his commutation application. “I know … Chris (Jordan) framed me … but I absolutely did not commit this crime and I was wrongfully convicted.”
Jones’ attorneys also filed an affidavit on Friday from a man named Clinton Johnson, who worked for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for 26 years and was later appointed by former Gov. Brad Henry to the Pardon and Parole Board, where he served for eight years.
Johnson said in his affidavit that he had reviewed 797 pages of documents related to Jones’ conviction and time in prison, and believed Jones could “successfully transition to the community, provided he has a strong support system in place” as well as a place to live, employment, transportation, a “positive mentor” and access to medical and mental health assistance “if needed.”
Execution dates requested for seven death row inmates
John Marion Grant – Grant was convicted of killing Gay Carter. O’Connor requested an Oct. 7 date for Grant’s execution.
Julius Jones – Jones was convicted of killing Paul Howell. O’Connor requested an Oct. 28 date for Jones’ execution.
Bigler Jobe Stouffer – Stouffer was convicted of killing Linda Reaves. O’Connor requested a Nov. 18 date for Stouffer’s execution.
Wade Greely Lay – Lay was convicted of killing Kenny Andeson. O’Connor requested a Dec. 9 date for Lay’s execution.
James Allen Coddington – Coddington was convicted of killing Albert Hale. O’Connor requested a Feb. 10, 2022 date for Coddington’s execution.
Donald Anthony Grant – Grant was convicted of killing Brenda McElyea and Suzette Smith. O’Connor requested a Dec. 30 date for Grant’s execution.
Gilbert Ray Postelle – Postelle was convicted of killing James “Donnie” Swindle Jr., Amy Wright, Terry Smith and James Alderson. O’Connor requested a Jan. 20, 2022 execution date for Postelle.