Julius Jones, a death row inmate whose innocence battle has gained notoriety over the years as athletes and celebrities have joined his cause, will have his case heard in March by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board.

Jones, who is now 40, was convicted decades ago in the 1999 slaying of Paul Howell, an Edmond businessman. Howell, who had just taken his daughters shopping, was gunned down in front of his home. Jones was 19 at the time of Howell’s death. 

Jones is seeking to have his sentence commuted at the hearing in March. Pardon and Parole Board director Tom Bates told The Frontier that Jones’ case will likely be heard on March 8, though the board is holding additional meetings that week.

Jones’ case will be a first for the pardon and parole board. As a death row inmate, it was unclear until last year whether his case could even be heard by the board. Board members posed the question last summer to Attorney General Mike Hunter, who eventually replied that former AG Scott Pruitt had already issued an opinion that while death row inmates could not be paroled, there were “no limits” on commutation power. 

Jones is only eligible for a Stage 1 review, where the board takes a brief look at his case and votes on whether to pass him to Stage 2. 

A Stage 2 review allows for a deeper look at the case by the board.

An inmate who passes Stage 2 then has their case sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt who has the final say on whether or not to commute the sentence.

Jones has maintained his innocence for decades, but was convicted after his co-defendant, Chris Jordan, testified against him, saying Jones had shot Howell. 

Jones was given the death penalty while Jordan, who was also convicted of first-degree murder in the case, was given a greatly reduced sentence and left prison in 2014 after serving 13 years behind bars. 

Jones’ attorneys have argued his trial was flawed and that Jones was harmed by poor legal representation, a racist juror who allegedly called him a racial slur, and shoddy work by police and prosecutors. 

But he sits today on death row having exhausted his legal appeals. Hunter, whose office has been involved in the legal wrangling over both Jones’ case and the death penalty in Oklahoma, has repeatedly maintained that he believes Jones is guilty. 

March’s hearing could be Jones’ last shot at staving off execution. His attorneys have previously told The Frontier that without a way to get his case back into court, a commutation is Jones’ last chance, even if it merely reduces his sentence from the death penalty to life in prison.

When the death penalty will resume in Oklahoma is another matter. Executions were put on pause in Oklahoma in 2015 after a series of high-profile mistakes in the execution of two inmates and multiple attempted executions of a third. And though the state announced last year it was prepared to move forward with lethal injection as its primary execution method, the resumption of the death penalty in Oklahoma remains on hold as a legal challenge winds its way through the federal court system.