Suspicions arose as Julius Jones’ execution neared
Oklahoma City The fate of Julius Jones – who spent nearly 20 years on death row, even as many questions raised doubts about his guilt – rests with Oklahoma Governor Kevin State.
There were only hours for Stitt to decide whether Jones would live or die. He is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday.
Jones, 41, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting of Paul Howell, a businessman from an affluent Oklahoma City suburb. Jones has consistently maintained his innocence.
The case has drawn increasing attention since it was featured in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018 that featured some of the allegations of his defense team. Since then, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, who visited Jones in prison, and athletes with links to Oklahoma, including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Tra Young, have urged State to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life. This week, the European Union ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lamprinides, sent a letter to Stit, urging him to grant Jones clemency.
Here are some of the main arguments made by Jones’ lawyers and the prosecutors’ response.
The witness to the eye described the shooter
Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Toby, who was an eyewitness to her brother’s murder, testified in court that the gunman wore an inn stocking cap “about half an inch to an inch” above his ears, with that hair sticking out on both sides. Jones’ lawyers point out that this was a better description of Jones’s co-defendant who testified against him, Christopher Jordan, who had cornrow braids at the time, and that the jury was never shown a photo of Jones taken a week before the murder that showed him with short, tousled hair, he said Jones has long since been framed by Jordan, and that Jordan is the actual killer.
But prosecutors say Toby testified that she had never seen braids and that her testimony was referring to the amount of hair that was visible between the top of the ear and the cap of the sock, not the length of the hair. Prosecutors also noted that a federal district court took up the case, stating that “(Jones’s) hair length compared to that of Mr. Jordan is not convincing evidence of actual innocence.
Jones and his family asserted that he was with them at home the night Howell was murdered, eating dinner and playing games with his siblings, and that the jury never provided this information at trial.
Prosecutors say this is a “blatant lie,” and that Jones’ attorney never called the family to the witness stand because Jones repeatedly told his attorney that he was not home the night of the murder. They also noted that three people saw Jones with a stolen Suburban Howells shortly after the murder. Even Jones’ attorney, David Mackenzie, wrote in an affidavit that he had “personally concluded that the alibi’s defense was incorrect.”
testimony in prison
Jones’ lawyers say the jury never heard from several individuals who testified that Jordan had confessed to murdering Howell and setting up Jones. Prosecutors say these individuals, all of whom have long criminal records, are not reliable, do not know any details of the killing and that their testimonies have not been corroborated.
One juror at Jones’ trial wrote in an affidavit after Jones’ conviction that during the trial another juror engaged in premature deliberations and used a racist adjective while saying they should take Jones behind prison and shoot him. Prosecutors argue that when the trial judge asked her about this claim the day after the alleged incident, she never mentioned the racial profiling. The warden signed an affidavit saying the juror never reported it, as she said she did.
Could Jones’ life be saved?
Although Jones has no pending appeals, the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles twice voted 3-1 to recommend the governor commute Jones’ death sentence, each time citing doubts about the evidence in the case. State appointed two of the three members who voted to recommend clemency: Adam Lack and Kelly Doyle. The third member, Larry Morris, was appointed by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Personally, I believe that there should be no doubt in death penalty cases. Put simply, I have doubts about this issue,” Lack said on the day of his clemency hearing with Jones.
State, who hasn’t said much publicly about his decision, could commute Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment, with or without a chance of parole.
“The governor takes his role in this process very seriously and will carefully consider the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation as he does in all cases,” State spokeswoman Carly Acheson said in a statement. We will have no further comment until the governor makes a decision.
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