By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —
OKLAHOMA CITY – On Thursday, February 25, a group of over 100 faith leaders, activists, and family members of Julius Jones gathered at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City to support Jones’ effort to have his death sentence commuted. The coalition of supporters believe that he is innocent and has been wrongfully convicted of murder.
Outside the church, Julius’ supporters prayed, heard from several faith leaders who support Julius’ innocence and listened to the performance of a gospel choir.
“If we believe in the Gospel and believe that Jesus is who he says he is, then we cannot turn our backs on Julius Jones,” said Pastor Jon Middendorf of the Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene. “A grave injustice has been committed, and people of faith must work to set this right.”
Oklahoma City resident Jimmy Lawson, Jones’ best friend and high school classmate, played a short pre-recorded audio clip of Julius from death row thanking his supporters for their compassion and steadfast support.
The group then marched three blocks to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board where they presented a petition with over 6.2 million signatures supporting Jones’ innocence.
Jones’ attorneys filed the commutation application for Julius with the state Pardon and Parole Board on October 15, 2019.
That same year, activist, faith leader and Justice for Julius Coalition founder Cece Jones-Davis started the petition on Change.org.
After arriving at the Pardon and Parole Board, Jones-Davis presented the petition along with letters of support, which ask the Parole Board and Governor Kevin Stitt to commute Jones’ sentence.
Jones’ case has garnered support from celebrities including activist Kim Kardashian West, renowned death penalty attorney Bryan Stevenson, NBA players Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, and Blake Griffin and Dallas Cowboy quarterback Dak Prescott.
Jones has been on death row in Oklahoma since 2002 despite compelling evidence of innocence.
In 1999, authorities arrested Jones days after businessman Paul Scott Howell was killed in a predominantly white suburb of Oklahoma City.
At the time of his arrest, Jones was a 19-year-old student at the University of Oklahoma on a partial academic scholarship and a former high school basketball state champion and star football player.
Jones is scheduled to receive a “stage one” commutation hearing on March 8, meaning the Pardon and Parole Board will review a brief synopsis of his case before voting on whether or not to advance his application to “stage two,” a lengthier process that might result in a recommendation to commute his sentence.
Jones’ case and prosecution, the subject of an ABC documentary titled, “The Last Defense,” is seen by many as riddled with racism and prosecutorial misconduct.
Jones’ co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, matched the eye-witness description of the man, who shot and killed businessman Paul Howell. The assailant was described as having half-an-inch of hair sticking out from his cap.
Jones’ trial lawyers failed to show the jury a photograph revealing “Jones’ very short, crew-cut hair at the time of the crime, proving he could not be the person who the eye-witness described.”
Jordan received a secret plea deal in exchange for testifying against Jones.
Two men who served time in the Oklahoma County Jail with Jordan independently came forward to say Jordan had confessed while behind-bars to killing Mr. Howell and framing Julius (read their affidavits here and here).
According to his current attorney’s, Jones also had an alibi. His family has maintained that he was home eating dinner and playing board games at the time of Mr. Howell’s murder. His family was never asked to testify and Jones’ lawyer never presented his alibi to the jury.
“No one ever asked us to tell our side of the story, and Julius never had a chance,” said Madeline Jones, Julius’ mother.
“I truly believe that if the people of Oklahoma, the Pardon and Parole Board, and Governor Stitt heard that story and weighed the facts of Julius’ case they would send our boy home,’ she added. “I am so grateful to all the people who came out today to help give Julius a voice and lift him up with their actions and prayers.”
Dylan Goforth of The Frontier reported that Jones’ case will likely be heard on March 8.
Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, representing Jones, told The City Sentinel, “It was heartening to see members of the Julius Jones Coalition deliver 6.2 million petition signatures to Tom Bates, the Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board. We are hopeful this will help convince the Board to move Julius’ case to Stage 2 review when it votes on his commutation application on March 8.
“The legal team is so grateful to the Coalition and the thousands of supporters for all their hard work and dedication to draw attention to the case and to try and correct the injustices that occurred. It takes a big team to try to right this wrong.”
Since 1973, 173 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated – ten are from Oklahoma.
To read the commutation application and learn more about Julius’ case, visit justiceforjulius.com.