By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
HEADLINE & STORY UPDATE: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court has rescheduled the Julius Jones case again – for the 17th time – the next possible conference date would be Nov. 12,
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (Sept. 28, 2018) – On Friday morning (Sept 7) Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bill Graves split the difference between death row prisoner Julius Jones’ legal team and the district attorney’s office in the matter of DNA testing.
The hearing in Jones v. Oklahoma was held to address the question of whether the district attorney’s office would be able to communicate directly with the DNA testing facility.
The judge ruled that the state cannot unilaterally contact the DNA lab, but joint contact will be allowed, which is what the defense offered two weeks ago.
Going forward the parties should have joint communication with LabCorp in Virginia, which is testing a red bandana that the state neglected to test nineteen years ago. The bandana is currently being tested for DNA at the expense and direction of Jones’ attorneys. The state agreed to this procedure.
Oklahoma County district attorneys David Prater and Jennifer Hinsburger presented for the state. Michael Robles, with Crowell Moring law firm in New York City, is providing pro bono representation in the Jones’ case. Mark Barnett, from Norman, also presented for Jones.
Judge Graves took time during the hearing to review the state’s motion which he had only received a few moments before the hearing began due to some mix-up on the docket. He also said he would “re-review” the defense’s response regarding the DNA testing.
The state said it felt the process was taking too long and they were denied information when they attempted to contact the lab for an update.
“Today’s ruling simply means that, going forward, the parties will jointly confer with the lab conducting the DNA testing,’ said Dale Baich, federal public defender for Jones. “As we represented to the judge at the hearing, that testing is well underway.”
Julius Darius Jones, a 21-year-old African-American student on academic scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the carjacking murder of a white father of two, in Edmond. Twenty years later and having exhausted his appeals, Jones maintains his innocence.
Jones’ family, along with many of his supporters, were in attendance in the nearly full court room.
“This evidence should have been tested 19 years ago,” said Baich. “There is always a concern that with the passage of time, the sample could be degraded or contaminated. Although this hearing is important, DNA testing is just one aspect of this case, which includes overwhelming evidence that not only was Julius Jones wrongfully convicted, but racial bias also contaminated the trial.”
The filing asks the Court to order a hearing on new information in the Jones’ case. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) previously rebuffed efforts to secure new judicial review of the facts and totality of circumstances surrounding scholarly evidence about constitutionally impermissible impact on African-Americans from patterns and practices in Oklahoma death penalty cases.
On April 25, 2017, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission issued a report that detailed the numerous systemic flaws within Oklahoma’s system of capital punishment.
Appended to the report was a study about racially disparate capital sentencing outcomes in Oklahoma. Based on this new study, Jones asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to consider whether or not his death sentence violated his rights under the Oklahoma and federal constitutions.
On July 25, The City Sentinel broke the news that the OCCA had decided to take a fresh look at new questions raised by Jones’ attorneys earlier this year of racial bias on the Oklahoma County jury that convicted Jones of murder in 1999.
Court documents state that a juror said “they should just take that (n-word) out and shoot him behind the jail.”
In another development, in discussions between the prosecution and the defense, the state agreed to make its file on Jones available for inspection. Jones’ new defense team, appointed two years ago, had previously requested access to the prosecutor’s file.
“We appreciate Mr. Prater finally agreeing to allow us to see the prosecutor’s case file,” Baich said. “We are in the process of picking a date so that we can review the state’s file.”
This summer, ABC’s The Last Defense documentary which examined two death row cases – Darlie Routier and Julius Jones – drew new attention to the Jones’ case. The docu-series revealed critical findings from Julius’ legal team, which they believe could be a violation of Jones’s constitutional rights to a fair trial.
“’The Last Defense’ put a spotlight on Julius Jones’s case by telling a compelling story about the injustices and racism at play in his case and throughout the criminal justice system as a whole,” Baich said. “The prosecution’s case against Julius has always rested on a shaky foundation, and the documentary further exposed that fact. Following a conviction, and as a case moves through the courts, procedural technicalities often prevent judges from looking at new and compelling evidence that a person’s constitutional rights have been violated.
“A documentary, unhindered by these technicalities, can educate members of the public about a case, help them understand what happened, and allow them to decide whether to hold their public officials accountable for what went wrong.” Baich added.
This story was updated on Saturday, Sept 8, 2018