By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – A special edition of ABC’S ‘20/20’ airing Tuesday, July 14, will feature former high school basketball state champion and honor student Julius Jones, who is seeking clemency while on death row for murder. The program will air from 7 – 9 p.m. CST.
Jones has been incarcerated for 21 years this month.
In 1999, authorities arrested Jones, a 19-year-old former high school basketball state champion and star football player, days after a businessman in a predominantly white suburb of Oklahoma City was shot and killed.
Prior to the murder, Jones was a student at the University of Oklahoma on a partial academic scholarship with dreams of joining the basketball team. Now, 21 years later, a two-hour “20/20” reports on the crime, trial and a key piece of evidence that authorities recently tested for DNA.
The program features an interview with Jones from death row, who tells his version of events, claiming that he is innocent, and his lawyers’ claim that racism has influenced his conviction.
The two-hour “20/20” on Julius Jones is an abridged version of Viola Davis’ and Julius Tennon’s documentary series, “The Last Defense.”
“The Last Defense” is executive produced by Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon along with Andrew Wang for JuVee Productions; Christine Connor for XCON Productions; Vanessa Potkin and Aida Leisenring for Lincoln Square Productions; and Lee Beckett for ABC News Longform.
Davis said they wanted to “give a voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful and culturally relevant narratives.”
The Last Defense premiered on ABC in June 2018 with an in-depth look at two death row cases: Darlie Routier on Texas’ death row and Jones on death row in Oklahoma.
According to Davis, the seven-part docu-series spotlights serious flaws in the American justice system – and in particular the high rate of exonerated death row inmates.
Potkin, Director of Post-Conviction Litigation at the Innocence Project said, “We know through the exonerations cases that many types of evidence that are used in courts today, and to send people to death row, are unreliable.’
“When you’re facing an execution, and that execution is carried out, and we later find out that you’re innocent… there’s no undoing that wrongful conviction,” Potkin added.
Davis said The Last Defense is meant to shine a light on these case discrepancies for viewers and potential jurors.
“It’s not a new light. It’s just a light,” said Davis, an Academy-Award winning actor. “A light where things have always been eschewed, it’s just when we choose to see it.”
Tennon added, “We’re giving a voice to those who may not have a voice so we as a general public can look and say ‘wow, that could be me too.”
Leisenring, of Lincoln Square Productions, said, “The more we’re able to educate them about the DNA evidence and about informant testimony and how it has its flaws, the more their ears will perk up when they’re listening to those kinds of witnesses. And so, we hope to help on a mass level, as opposed to one person at a time.”
Potkin said she hopes that viewers will “understand that just because you’re convicted does not mean that you’re guilty.
Tune in to “The Last Defense: Julius Jones – A Special Edition of 20/20” airing Tuesday, July 14 (7 – 9 p.m. CST), on ABC.
To learn more about Julius Jones’ case, visit justiceforjulius.com.