By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – In August 1999, Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy sought the death penalty against Julius Darius Jones, a former John Marshall High School honor student who was accused of killing an Edmond insurance executive, Paul Scott Howell.
Jones is African American. He was only 19 years old, a former football and basketball player who graduated from high school with a 3.8 grade-point average, when he was accused of killing Howell.
Following what Jones’ current lawyers contend was “pervasive and highly racialized pre-trial media coverage” of Julius’s case, as well as “racialized remarks made by prosecutors and at least one juror” during Julius’s capital murder trial (Petition at 26-29).
Jones was 21 when he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by a nearly all-white jury.
The co-defendant in the case, Christopher O. Jordan, 20, of Edmond, testified against Julius in exchange for a 30 year to life sentence. After serving 15 years of his sentence, Jordan was released from prison in 2014.
Howell was fatally shot in the head in the driveway of his parents’ home in Edmond and his vehicle was stolen.
For the past eighteen years, Julius has maintained his innocence.
State and federal courts have denied Jones relief. In one appellate proceeding, a judge who upheld his death sentence wrote a newspaper opinion piece stating that Jones “deserved to die.”
In October 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the appeals of Jones and two other Oklahoma death row inmates making Jones eligible for an execution date when the state resumes state killings.
In June, lawyers for Jones filed a petition on Julius’ behalf with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals based on a study that was part of the report issued by the Oklahoma Death Penalty Commission in April of this year.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Commission Report concluded that there were various serious and systemic flaws in Oklahoma’s capital sentencing system.
Included at the end of the Commission’s report is a separate study entitled “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides, 1990-2012,” which examines “the possibility that the race of the defendant and/or victim affects who ends up on death row (Report at 211, 214).
Among the study’s key findings was the fact that “homicides with white victims are the most likely to result in a death sentence.” (Id. at 217.)
This study states that, in Oklahoma, criminal defendants – like Jones – who are accused and convicted of killing white victims are nearly two times more likely to receive a sentence of death than if the victim is nonwhite.
For homicides involving only male victims, a death sentence is approximately three times more likely in cases involving male victims when that victim is white, the report notes. In the document filed on June 23 with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Julius’s attorneys believe that the race study shows that his death sentence is unconstitutional.
“Not only does this study illustrate that Julius faced a greater risk of execution by the mere happenstance that the victim who he was accused and convicted of killing was white (Petition at 13-15, 19-29), but we also argue that race operated invidiously throughout Julius’s case from the very earliest stages,” attorneys for Jones contend.
“This new study demonstrates the troubling fact that Julius was among those who, between 1990 and 2012, were statistically more likely to be sentenced to death in Oklahoma based on the race of their alleged victim alone,” said Amanda Bass, an attorney with the Office of the Arizona Federal Public Defender, appointed to represent Jones last August. “In this way, Julius’s death sentence is unlawful under the Oklahoma and federal constitutions.”
A more recent study published in the North Carolina Law Review in 2016 titled “Untangling the Role of Race in Capital Charging and Sentencing in North Carolina,” 1990-2009 by Catherine Grosso and Barbara O’Brien, associate professors at Michigan State University’s College of Law also finds, “The white victim effect was the clearest and strongest finding in this study analysis,” Grosso says. “Race still matters in the criminal justice system, and it shouldn’t.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center over 75 percent of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50 percent of murder victims generally are white.
“This Court should therefore grant Julius relief from its unconstitutional sentence. Alternatively, as Julius has stated a more than colorable claim that his rights under the federal and state constitutions have been violated, this Court should grant Julius’s requests for discovery and an evidentiary hearing to further factually develop and support this claim,” stated Jones’ attorney Mark Barrett of Norman, Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals will now determine – or have the state determine – whether Jones’s petition raises unresolved factual issues that are material to the legality of his death sentence.
Jones’ attorneys also note that “no physical evidence connected Julius to the scene of the shooting. the stolen Suburban, or the alleged murder weapon.”
“Julius Jones’ trial, conviction and sentencing to the death penalty is concerning on several levels, and supports data related to the frequency of wrongful convictions, especially for poor, minority defendants whose victim is caucasian,” said former Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty chair Connie Johnson, a former state Senator.
On July 20, Jones filed a motion with the Oklahoma County District Court asking the court to order DNA testing on a key piece of evidence. According to Jones’ attorneys the motion was filed after Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater did not respond to Jones’s request to have the item tested.
“The red bandana, which the shooter was wearing over his face according to a witness, may contain DNA evidence which would identify the shooter,” Bass said.
As he did at trial, Julius Jones maintains his innocence.
Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission Report http://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/OklaDeathPenalty.pdf
2017.06.22 Successor State Postconviction Pet w. sig https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B3_bre24T7cBa2wzdGhDSXlpaUk
2017.07.20 Motion and Brief in Support of DNA Testing https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B3_bre24T7cBeTlHRi1kckxKU1k