By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter –
OKLAHOMA CITY – A recent poll shows that a majority of Oklahomans now believe that Governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board should commute the sentence of Julius Jones, an Oklahoman on death row for a murder he says he did not commit.
Jones, who was arrested and convicted in 1999 for killing Edmond businessman Paul Howell, has always maintained his innocence.
Since his trial, multiple inmates have independently signed sworn affidavits alleging that Julius’ co-defendant framed him for the murder and testified against him in return for a plea deal (read the affidavits here).
Celebrity activists that include Kim Kardashian, Bryan Stevenson, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Baker Mayfield and Trae Young have all worked to raise the profile of Jones’ case.
Over the New Year’s holiday, a group of Oklahomans who support Julius’ commutation and release held the New Justice / New Year Walk for Julius organized by Oklahoma City rap artist and activist Jabee Williams. Williams and others covered over 130 miles in snow and sleet from the State Capitol building in Oklahoma City to McAlester, where Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
“We have been saying for years that if anyone takes a close look at Julius’ case, it is obvious that he did not receive a fair trial and that Julius is innocent,” said Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, a member of Julius’ legal team.
“As the people of Oklahoma learn more about Julius and his circumstances, they are drawing that same conclusion,” Baich continued. “Our hope now is that the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Governor Stitt approach his case with the same rigor and open-mindedness that the public has.”
The poll, conducted by Oklahoma City based public affairs firm Amber Integrated, surveyed 500 registered voters in Oklahoma from December 14-17. The poll has a margin of error of 4.38 percent.
The full poll and crosstabs can be viewed here (see page 9 ).
The poll asked, “Do you think the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Governor Kevin Stitt should commute Julius Jones’ sentence to something other than death?”
Sixty percent of all respondents answered, “yes,” including 70 percent of both independents and Democrats, and 49 percent of Republicans.
Among Republicans, only 29 percent opposed commutation. At 22 percent, Republicans were roughly twice as likely to say they were “unsure” as Democrats or independents.
“What we are seeing here is relatively broad support for the state not to execute Mr. Jones,” said Amber Integrated pollster Jackson Lisle. “This is specific to the case being made that Julius Jones may be innocent, and there is just too much doubt to move forward with this execution,” Lisle added.
Supporters who advocate for the state to commute Julius Jones’ sentence contend that the new data shows that there is widespread local support for Jones in Oklahoma, in addition to the nationwide activism surrounding his case.
“The case for Julius Jones has always been deeply personal and deeply rooted in Oklahoma and our values,” said Tulsa resident Brandy Laird, with the group Mothers for Change.
“The question is, are we going to allow our government – which is acting in our name and using our resources – to take the life of a man who did not receive a fair trial and that many believe is innocent?,” Laird asks.
“For me, I can’t accept that. It’s not just a moral stain on our government, it’s a moral stain on all of us. I think Oklahomans are seeing that very clearly.”
Pastor Jon Middendorf with the Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene said that many in his congregation were also taking up Julius’ cause.
“There are people of faith who disagree on the morality of the death penalty,” said Middendorf. “But no one can accept standing by while a potentially innocent man is put to death.
“Like many others, I have prayed deeply on this issue, and I will continue to oppose an execution which I believe runs contrary to Christian values,” Middendort said.
For more information regarding Julius Jones and his case, visit justiceforjuliusjones.com.
This story first appeared online on Jan. 8, 2021