By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – ABC’s documentary series, The Last Defense, was recently screened by long-time festival supporter JuVee Productions at the Capital City Black Film Festival held in Austin, TX.
The documentary explores the case of Julius Jones, a 21-year-old African-American college student with an academic scholarship, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for the carjacking murder of a white father of two, in Edmond, Oklahoma. Twenty years later and having exhausted his appeals, Jones maintains his innocence.
The Last Defense which aired on ABC this summer, is executive produced by Academy award winning actress Viola Davis, Julius Tennon and Andrew Wang for JuVee Productions; Christine Connor and Lee Beckett for XCON Productions; and Vanessa Potkin, Aida Leisenring, Morgan Hertzan, and Gemma Jordan for Lincoln Square Productions.
The series reveals critical findings from Julius’ legal team, Bass and Dale Baich, which they believe could be a violation of Jones’s constitutional rights to a fair trial.
The festival screening was followed by a panel discussion that featured filmmakers and cast members. The panel included executive producers Potkin, Leisenring and Wang, series director Amani Martin, Julius Jones’s federal public defender Amanda Bass, and Jones’ friend and ally Jimmy Lawson.
“We were committed to using our platform to showcase influential work in the film and television industry. We were thrilled to screen The Last Defense for our audience and give them an opportunity to learn what it took to create this powerful series,” said CCBFF Executive Director Winston G. Williams.
“JuVee Productions has supported the festival from its inception and we were grateful to integrate this series into our festival line-up. We were confident that this screening and panel discussion would inspire filmmakers and creatives to develop content that is fueled by passion to ultimately promote positive change in the world.”
Since the series aired, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is now reconsidering its earlier denial of Jones’s petition raising new evidence of racism tainting the fairness of his trial and sentencing proceeding.
Tennon, JuVee Productions President of Development and Production said, “We are thrilled to support Capital City Black Film Festival in its 6th year as the preeminent film festival for African American filmmakers in Austin and throughout Texas. The success of The Last Defense has not only resulted in a re-examination of Julius Jones’s death row case, it has revealed that miscarriages of justice happen each day. We are hopeful that by highlighting these cases, it will encourage others to use their platforms and gifts to draw attention to issues of injustice.”
The seven-episode docu-series explores and exposes flaws in the American justice system through emotional, in-depth examinations of the death row cases of Darlie Routier and Julius Jones.
The first four episodes cover the case of Routier on death row in Texas for the murder of her two children. The final three segments, which were screened at the festival, covered the Jones case.
“We wanted The Last Defense to be a wake-up call to ordinary citizens that people can be sentenced to death on very little and unreliable evidence,” said Leisenring. “I am overjoyed that viewers became so emotionally invested in Julius Jones. It is this kind of momentum that can save a life and overturn a wrongful conviction. I feel hope.”
Lawson, founder of the #FreeJuliusJones movement stated, “The Capital City Film Festival was a huge success. ‘The Last Defense – Julius Jones Story’ was shown and as expected, the crowd was blown away,”
In the case’s latest development, on Friday, September 7, at 9 a.m., Oklahoma District Court Judge Bill Graves will preside over a hearing at the Oklahoma County District Court, (courtroom #800) 320 Robert S. Kerr Ave., regarding a procedural question related to DNA testing of the red bandana that the state neglected to test nineteen years ago.
The hearing in Jones v. Oklahoma will address the question of whether the district attorney’s office will be able to communicate directly with the DNA testing facility.
“This evidence should have been tested 19 years ago,” Baich told The City Sentinel. “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.”
One of the fastest growing film festivals in the region, the Capitol City Black Film Festival featured film screenings of documentaries, features, shorts and music videos from talented filmmakers from across the globe.
“‘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.