By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On Thursday, November 1, a free public screening of the ABC documentary The Last Defense will be held at the Auditorium at the Douglass, 600 N. High Avenue, in Northeast Oklahoma City. Doors open at 6 p.m.
The newly renovated venue, part of the historic Douglass High School in Oklahoma City’s John F. Kennedy neighborhood, opened its doors to the public one year ago.
Three episodes of the documentary will examine the story of Julius Jones, on Oklahoma’s death row, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session. The event is sponsored by Sing For Change and the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP).
Panelists will include: Cece Jones-Davis, Sing For Change founder and event organizer; Rev. Larry Crudup, Senior Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church of Oklahoma City; Jabee Williams, Emmy winning hip hop artist and activist; Jimmy Lawson, Rose State College adjunct professor and longtime friend of Julius Jones; Nikki Nice, on-air radio personality/producer; and Rev. Don Heath, chair of Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP).
“Julius could be me or any other black man in Oklahoma City,” Jabee said. “Any of us could get caught up in the system that already criminalizes us before we even get in a courtroom. There’s a reason this story is coming up again in such a big way. I’m happy to have been a part of the docu-series, and in the public conversation about it.”
The project was executive produced by Academy award winning actress Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon, founders of JuVee Productions, to “give a voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful and culturally relevant narratives.” The couple partnered with XCON Productions and Lincoln Square Productions for this project.
“Julius Jones has firmly maintained his innocence and his story is finally heard in The Last Defense,” said Heath. “People are moved and appalled when they watch the documentary. They can’t believe that things like this are still happening in Oklahoma.”
The first episode, “JULIUS JONES: The Crime” examines how in 1999, Jones, an African American 19-year-old student at the University of Oklahoma on academic scholarship was arrested days after a Edmond businessman was shot to death during a car-jacking gone wrong.
“The second and third episodes explore police and prosecutorial misconduct in the case, racism in the criminal justice system, as well as during Julius’s criminal proceedings, and raises serious questions about whether Julius was wrongfully convicted,” said federal public defender Dale Baich, a member of Jones’ legal team.
The Death Penalty Information Center states that since 1973, 163 individuals have been exonerated from death row in the U.S. – ten of those are from Oklahoma.
“We must continue to shed light on the inconsistencies of the Julius Jones case as well as other cases that have very clear and blatant racial bias,” said Rev. Crudup.
The study, Race and Wrongful Convictions in The United States, concluded that African American prisoners convicted of murder are 50 percent more likely to be innocent of their convicted crime than other convicted murderers.
“This startling statistic is a miscarriage of justice that we must work vigorously toward correcting, and the faith community must be a voice of reason and justice willing to speak out against the institutional sins of our nation; of which I believe this issue is one,” Crudup added.
The Last Defense was recently shown on the University of Central Oklahoma campus, organized by Dr. Elizabeth Overman, UCO Professor in the Political Science Department and OK-CADP vice chair.
“The evening was devoted to an examination of the arbitrary and racist nature of the death penalty,” Overman said. “The underlying and rattling issue is the execution of innocent individuals. Application of the death penalty is bad public policy. It needs to be abolished.”
A group of Julius’ supporters, led by Jones-Davis, have come together to declare November Justice for Julius Awareness Month. Several events have been scheduled including additional screenings, a prayer circle, a lecture and a Sing For Change protest at the Oklahoma County Courthouse.
“One of the goals of Justice for Julius Awareness Month is to spotlight our judicial system in Oklahoma,” said Lawson. “Julius has been wrongly convicted of capital murder and has been sitting on death row for 19 years. The answer to Julius’s freedom is “systemic integrity,” which is the act of our legal system doing the right thing by exemplifying high character and moral consciousness.
And all proceeds from the Julius Jones’ GoFundMe page are used o support rallies, marketing, t-shirts, petitions, phone calls, and food.
Jones-Davis stated, “A wind is blowing through Oklahoma City that we cannot contain. It is as if God has opened the door to a dark room to shine light on the once-forgotten Julius Jones case. It’s time for Oklahomans to deal with it.”
For more details about #Justice4Julius Awareness Month, visit JusticeforJulius.com.