Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater on Thursday requested a member of the state Pardon and Parole Board recuse from hearing Julius Jones’ commutation case this month because the member retweeted Kim Kardashian in 2019 while explaining the commutation process on Twitter.
The member, Adam Luck, wrote a series of tweets in November 2019 explaining the significance of Jones’ commutation application. Jones will be the first death row inmate to have his case appear before the Pardon and Parole Board when his commutation application is heard on Monday.
Kardashian is the most famous of Jones’ many supporters, and has often spoken out in support of Jones, who has been on death row since 2001.
Prater sent the letter, addressed to Luck, asking him to recuse from hearing Jones’ application because Luck, Prater said in the letter, had “publicly demonstrated your personal bias in regards to this case.”
In the letter, Prater also included a printout of Luck’s retweet of Kardashian, in which she noted Jones had asked the board to hear his commutation request.
Kardashian urged her Twitter followers, of which there are nearly 70 million, to ask board members and Gov. Kevin Stitt to “give careful and thoughtful consideration to (Jones’) petition.”
She then told her followers they could learn more by reading a pro-Jones website and following a pro-Jones Twitter account.
Luck retweeted Kardashian as part of a series of tweets explaining the significance of Jones’ commutation request. He said in his retweet of Kardashian that he would walk followers “through what I know as a board member, although I do not speak on behalf of the board or the governor,” he wrote. The rest of his tweet thread included an explanation of how cases reach the commutation docket, the state of the death penalty in Oklahoma, the rarity with which a commutation is given, and finally, a wish that the board would “continue working towards transparency and clarity on these processes.”
“Your actions unmistakably give rise to the appearance of impropriety, if not outright partiality,” Prater wrote. “By publicly endorsing a call for Offender Jones to be recommended for commutation by the Board upon which you sit, it is evident that neither the murder victim’s family nor the State of Oklahoma can receive fair consideration by you in this commutation proceeding.”
Prater finished the letter by telling Luck he hoped he would recuse from hearing Jones’ case, calling it the “ethical and legal” thing to do.
Prater also sent the letter to Stitt’s general counsel, Tom Bates, the executive director of the Pardon and Parole board, as well as the board’s general counsel.
Dale Baich, one of Jones’ attorneys, called Prater’s letter a “desperate move.”
“The district attorney … is attempting to deny Julius due process and a full and fair commutation hearing by demanding that a board member recuse himself for simply providing information to the public about the process that the board follows in clemency cases,” Baich said in an emailed statement.
“The board’s vote on Monday is a vote on whether or not to take a serious look at Julius’ case in a longer and more thorough hearing,” he said. “Given that there is new and compelling evidence that he is innocent, this is the only reasonable decision in front of them. The fact that the district attorney is willing to go to such lengths to tamper with this process and deny Julius a fair hearing is deeply disturbing.”
Prater did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday evening.
This is not the first bit of drama related to Jones and the board. Last summer, board member Allen McCall, a retired judge, threatened Stephen Bickley, who at the time was the board’s executive director, with grand jury action because McCall thought Bickley was “anti-death penalty,” according to previous reporting by The Frontier. Bickley eventually resigned and was replaced with Bates.
Luck, whose bio says he holds a public policy degree from the University of Harvard and was the state director for a criminal justice reform group called Right on Crime, was appointed to the Pardon and Parole Board in 2019 by Stitt. Bates referred requests for comment to Luck, who could not be reached for comment.
Prater also wrote a letter to the Pardon and Parole Board earlier this week asking them to deny Jones’ request for a hearing.
Prater, who was not the Oklahoma County District Attorney at the time of Jones’ trial, said in that letter that Jones’ attorneys had “engaged in a coordinated and alarmingly successful campaign of misinformation” in an attempt to free Jones from death row.
In the letter, Prater outlined some of Jones’ past, including what he called an “escalating pattern of criminal conduct” that started with an attempt at stealing sneakers from a shoe store and ended, Prater said, with the murder of Paul Howell.
Earlier this week The Frontier reported that an inmate in Arkansas named Roderick Wesley had told Jones’ attorneys that he had served time with Jordan and that Jordan had confessed to the Howell murder in 2010.
Wesley told Jones’ attorneys in a series of letters and recorded Zoom interviews that Jordan had confessed to him to killing Howell and to letting Jones take the fall, but had not come clean because he did not want to end up on death row himself. Wesley said in the letters he watched a documentary on Jones’ case while in prison in 2020 and realized it was that case that Jordan had been referencing.
“When I saw it on TV, it was a big decision, do I jump out there or what,” Wesley told Jones’ attorneys “But I looked at it like if it was my situation, I would want somebody who had information to go ahead and do it because this is a man’s life on the line.”
Jordan testified against Jones in the murder trial and received a reduced sentence. Jordan eventually left prison in 2014 and remains on parole.
In one letter Wesley said he knew that someone would question his credibility and “ask exactly why I’m coming forth with such information now.”
“This man’s (Jones) family has been through 18 years of pain and suffering, while Mr. Jordan is walking free,” Wesley wrote in the first letter he sent to Jones’ defense. He said he was troubled to hear Julius Jones’ sister say in the documentary that if Julius Jones gave up, that she would give up too.
“If this man is wrongfully executed, by continuing to conceal this information, I feel as if I would have had a hand in putting this man to death and I can’t live with that on my conscience,” Wesley wrote.