by Patrick B. McGuigan and Darla Shelden
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (Wed., August 22, 2018)– Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have written a letter to Governor Mary Fallin expressing “deep concerns about the application of the death penalty in Oklahoma, specifically with respect to racial bias and the risk of executing an innocent person.”
The letter delivered on Tuesday (August 21) focuses on the case of Julius Darius Jones, arrested two decades ago for an Edmond murder.
The text of the CBC letter can be read online.
Many journalists and legal analysts who have focused intently on the case in recent years believe there is compelling evidence that Jones is innocent. Further, as more scrutiny has been brought to the case, clear evidence has emerged that racial bias tainted the jury pool in the case.
The Congressional Black Caucus letter sent to Fallin said:
“In November 2017, Mr. Jones’ current legal team discovered new evidence that at least one juror harbored racial prejudice that influenced his vote to convict and sentence Mr. Jones to death. One juror reported telling the judge about another juror who said the trial was a waste of time and ‘they should just take the [n-word] out and shoot him behind the jail.’”
The United States Supreme Court has made unequivocally clear that our criminal justice system cannot tolerate such blatant examples of racial prejudice on the part of even a single juror. In this way and many others, Mr. Jones’ rights under the state and federal constitutions appear to have been violated. On July 24, 2018, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to consider this newly discovered claim of the juror using the racial slur. There is also a petition pending before the United States Supreme Court regarding the unfair application of the death penalty on the basis of race.”
The Caucus letter pointed to the historic work of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, saying that “[m]ajor reform is needed to the criminal justice system to ensure that the fair and impartial process” the bipartisan group encouraged last year “becomes a reality.”
The Julius Jones conviction has become one of the most controversial capital punishment cases in state history. ABC Television broadcast a multi-week documentary, The Last Defense, that devoted three segments to the matter.
Full information on the documentary can be accessed here:
On July 25, The City Sentinel broke the news that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) had withdrawn a June order denying requests to look at evidence of racial bias on the Oklahoma County jury that convicted death row inmate Julius Jones of murder in 1999.
The court has decided to take a fresh look at some questions raised by Jones’ attorneys earlier this year. The judges also concluded (Case #PCD-2017-1313) that they could not ignore court mismanagement of exhibits earlier this year.
In a series of filings both in Oklahoma and at the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys for Jones have pointed to an historic study providing detailed evidence of constitutionally impermissible racial animus in death penalty proceedings, convictions and conclusions in Oklahoma.
The U.S. Supreme Court continues to review recent filings in the Jones case, with a fourteenth consideration of the matter pending at the High Court when justices return in September to prepare for the October 2018 term.
In the momentum of The Last Defense documentary, Jones’ supporters, led by Julius’s best friend Jimmy Lawson, the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Oklahoma Chapter of the NAACP participated in a Free Julius Jones Rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol on July 31.
An estimated crowd of 300 gathered demanding that Jones be granted a new trial with the ultimate goal of exoneration. The event was viewed nationwide via live stream from two local television stations.
The Congressional Black Caucus letter concluded, strongly pleading with Oklahoma’s chief executive to “take a close and careful look at [Julius Jones’] case, and use your authority to correct this wrongful conviction. Justice requires it.”