Oklahoma hasn’t quite figured out when it will be able to resume the death penalty, but when it does, Julius Jones will presumably be one of the first people it seeks to execute. The debate over his guilt or innocence is still raging, and his supporters are seeking a commutation of his sentence that could either spare him the death penalty or even possibly release him from prison altogether.
Here are two opinion pieces, one for Jones’ commutation written by Annie Clark of Mothers For Change, and one against, written by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
By Annie Clark
Mothers For Change
In the wake of an historic election, in the midst of the social and economic challenges of a pandemic, the nation is coming to terms with systemic issues of race, poverty and justice.
In Oklahoma, the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the recent decision of Governor Kevin Stitt to grant parole to many non-violent offenders from Oklahoma prisons have helped open our collective eyes and hearts to issues of justice in our state.
It is because of this positive work to improve the justice system in Oklahoma that we hope we can open a dialogue with Gov. Stitt about death row inmate Julius Jones, who many believe to be wrongfully convicted.
Julius has one more chance to have his death sentence commuted. He submitted an application to the Parole Board to commute his sentence over a year ago. It will be up to the Board’s recommendation and ultimately, Gov. Stitt, to decide his fate.
In 1999, Julius Jones was a promising athlete and student at the University of Oklahoma when he was arrested and sentenced to death for the murder of a white businessman.
It is widely agreed that shoddy investigation, incompetent representation, testimony of witnesses who were incentivized to lie for their own self-preservation and racial bias in the courtroom prevented Mr. Jones from getting a fair trial.
Julius’s first defense attorney died pre-trial and was replaced by a public defender who admits he failed to adequately represent Julius at trial.
Julius’s co-defendant, who matches the eye-witness description of the triggerman, is now free after testifying against Julius (photos from the time of the murder show Julius’ hair was far too short to fit the description).
A member of the predominantly white jury was recently determined to have said the trial was a waste of time and “they should just take that n***** out and shoot him behind the jail.”
The DNA evidence, so often highlighted by the attorney general as proof of guilt, is in fact inconclusive at best, and in some ways casts even more doubt on the prosecution’s case (if Julius wore the infamous red bandana donned by the killer, why wasn’t there any of his saliva on it, as one would normally expect?).
But maybe more important than all of this was the prevailing view in the late 1990s that young black males were a danger to suburban America. That attitude was embodied by overzealous District Attorney Bob Macy, many of whose historic 54 death row convictions were later determined to be tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, resulting in the courts reversing nearly half of his death sentences.
In the case of Julius Jones, politics and perception — as well as bias and outright bigotry — have won out over justice and the law. That cannot stand.
As a group of mothers, many of whom have sons of our own, we have asked ourselves – in light of the evidence and procedural issues with his case, how can we stand by and let the state execute Julius Jones?
Through no fault of his own, Julius has exhausted all of his options under the law and will need a miracle to save his life. We know that there are too many mothers seeking answers for the senseless deaths of their children to shootings and other forms of violence in our communities.
However, executing an innocent man will not bring about justice for either mother involved in this case. We have the power to do what is right. Please join us in asking Governor Stitt to commute the sentence of Julius Jones.
By Mike Hunter
Oklahoma Attorney General
The attorney general’s job in the criminal appeals process is to handle a wide range of post-conviction litigation, including petitions of actual innocence from inmates, including those on death row.
That is why one of the first things I did when I became attorney general was review every death row inmate’s case who have exhausted their appeals to ensure the state didn’t have an innocent person on death row – including the inmates who exhausted their appeals before I took this position.
After an extensive and painstaking review of the evidence in each case, I am confident we don’t.
And the evidence against Julius Jones is overwhelming and no misrepresentation of the facts in the case will change the fact that he killed Paul Howell.
Even after he exhausted his appeals, the state agreed to have the infamous red bandana tested at a lab chosen by his defense team. The bandana, that was found wrapped around the murder weapon in Jones’ bedroom, was a cornerstone of their argument to his innocence and would in fact prove someone else was wearing it.
The result: The probability that the DNA profile found on the bandana belonged to someone other than Jones is approximately 1 in 110 million in the U.S. African-American population.
Jones contends that his trial was contaminated by racism. Both the trial court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals have proven otherwise.
Something else that is repeatedly twisted is Jones’ criminal history. His team says Jones had no prior violent felony convictions, which is very misleading.
After he was convicted of the murder of Paul Howell, Jones pled guilty and was convicted of an armed carjacking. Saying he had no prior violent felony convictions is nothing more than wordplay.
Additionally, it wasn’t until the sentencing phase of his trial that the jury learned of many of his other criminal and violent actions. He had a history of armed robbery, numerous carjackings and assault. Evidence presented at trial showed on at least three occasions Jones had stolen property by force at gunpoint, among many other crimes.
Further, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered an evidentiary hearing on the claim that Jones was home the night of the murder. Both of his attorneys testified that Jones repeatedly told them his family was mistaken and he was not at home on the night of the murder.
Even the eyewitness testimony of Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, is being manipulated. Her exact testimony when asked if she could see whether or not the gunman had braids, which fit the description of the man with Jones that night, she said ‘no, I could not see braids.’
In all, 13 appellate judges have reviewed Jones’ conviction and sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down review of his case four times and he has exhausted his appeals.
Every misrepresentation of the facts by supporters of Jones has been disproven.
He has had his day in court and a jury of his peers has determined his punishment. He must now pay the price for murdering Paul Howell.
Although I respect the opinions of death penalty opponents, I categorically disagree with their position as well as their tactics when they mislead, deceive and misrepresent the evidence and the truth.
Documentaries that distort the facts and celebrity endorsements are fortunately not how our legal system works.
The sooner opponents of the death penalty realize that, the better.