By Patrick B. McGuigan, publisher
Published Oct 15, 2019 – Updated Oct 28, 2019
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Members of the legal team for Julius Jones, on Oklahoma’s death row for 19 years, filed a petition of clemency for him with the state Pardon and Parole Board on October 15.
Dale Baich and co-counsel, Amanda Bass, federal public defenders from Arizona, have battled tirelessly to save the life of Jones, who was accused, tried and convicted for the July 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Scott Howell.
The Jones’ clemency petition can be accessed here.
Along with the petition, they sent numerous letters of support from The Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumbert, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Witness to Innocence and national Evangelical leaders all submitted letters urging a grant of executive clemency for Jones.
The letters, addressed to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Governor Kevin Stitt, raised concerns noted in Jones’ clemency filing, including never-considered evidence of racial bias, evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, and poor legal representation, among other issues, creating serious doubts about Jones’ guilt.
Since the filing, a massive letter writing campaign has been led on social media to encourage people who support Jones’ innocence to contact Gov. Kevin Stitt and members of the state Pardon and Parole board.
On Twitter, Kim Kardashian West asked Gov. Kevin Stitt to “give thoughtful consideration to an Oklahoma death-row inmate’s petition for clemency.” Kim also tweeted contact information for Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to her over 62 million Twitter followers who began asking how they can help Jones.
On the day the petition was filed, Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, issued the following statement: “We must acknowledge the harm done to the victims of this crime and to society at large. We should stand for justice, but we can do that and protect society without resorting to the death penalty. The use of the death penalty only contributes to the continued coarsening of society and to the spiral of violence. Taking another life does not ultimately bring closure and peace to those who have lost a loved one. Justice is necessary, but it is not enough. Mercy perfects justice and brings healing. I urge the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to consider commuting the death sentence for Julius Jones.”
Many of the letters submitted discussed evidence that racial bias tainted Jones’ case. As the letter from Evangelical Leaders states, “From the start, [Mr. Jones’] case was riddled with racial discrimination. Upon his arrest, according to Julius, a police officer used the “n word”, and the State was successful in removing all prospective black jurors except one….. At least one juror harbored racial prejudice that influenced his vote to convict and sentence Julius to death. One juror reported that a fellow juror commented that the trial was a waste of time, and that “they should just take that n***** out and shoot him behind the jail.” [W]e are appalled that no action was taken to remove this juror. Racial bias has absolutely no place in our justice system.”
Some of the letters cited a 2017 study called “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides, 1990-2012” which found that a Black defendant like Jones accused of killing a white male victim in Oklahoma when his trial and sentencing occurred was nearly three times more likely to receive a death sentence than if his victim were a non-white male.
Witness to Innocence (WTI) executive director Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first person exonerated by DNA from death row in the United States, submitted a letter stating, “The troubling issues in Julius’ case are frighteningly similar to those found in many of the cases of the 166 men and women who were fortunate to be exonerated before their death sentences were carried out. Among the 166 people exonerated after a death sentence, for the 86 who are African American, implicit and overt racial bias led many jury members to ignore the doubts raised by weak witness testimony and lack of physical evidence, and sometimes even led them to be certain of the defendant’s guilt before the trial began….Racial bias was present in both the guilt-innocence and sentencing phases of Julius’ trial…Clemency at this stage is the only way to ensure that an innocent man is not executed.”
Oklahoma County District One Commissioner Carrie Blumbert wrote, “At the time of Julius’ trial, the eyewitness description of the shooter did not fit Julius. Instead, it described his co-defendant who served 15 years and is now a free man. Julius’ attorney was an overworked public defender who failed to cross-examine Christopher Jordan, (Julius’ co-defendant, on the six inconsistent statements he gave to police upon arrest. Christopher Jordan was later overheard bragging that he set-up Julius and was incentivized to testify for a shorter prison time. The evidence used to convict Julius was inconsistent and several eye-witnesses provided an alibi for Julius.”
The Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City recalled in its letter that Gov. Kevin Stitt has called for accountability as necessary for positive change in Oklahoma – “In your impactful inaugural speech on January 14th, 2019, you spoke about the much-needed advent of Oklahoma’s turnaround….Governor Stitt, we write to you today seeking justice in Oklahoma, in the form of accountability…Julius Jones has been on death row in Oklahoma, despite compelling evidence of an unreliable murder conviction and racial bias that has adversely affected his case. Mr. Jones’ troubling case sadly includes instances of prosecutorial misconduct, compromised forensic evidence and disproportionate sentencing.”
In May 2017, a one of a kind study of the death penalty performed by the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission was released after a year long process.
The Commission’s report states that the Oklahoma death penalty system is riddled with problems regarding eyewitness identification, recorded interrogations, weak training in interrogation best practices, jailhouse informant reliability hearings & training (data tracking, including with officers), addressing faulty forensics, and avenues to get into court with evolving science.
Jones’ petition highlights problems with use of eyewitness testimony in which witnesses were incentivized to support the prosecution’s position. Jurors in the Jones case, the petition points out, were never given full details of the promises prosecutors made to Chris Jordan, co-defendant in the Jones prosecution. While more than 30 years of incarceration was Jordan’s stated prison term, he actually served half that amount.
According to the petition, Julius Jones was assigned a court-appointed attorney and a law student who had never tried a death penalty case, both who acknowledged they did not have the experience necessary to adequately represent him.
Also stated in the petition, during trial Jones’ defense lawyers “failed to adequately cross-examine the co-defendant, on the six different and inconsistent statements that he gave to the police after his arrest or demonstrate that he may have been the shooter and may have been testifying against Jones to avoid the death penalty.” And, “failed to present the testimony of two available witnesses who overheard Jordan bragging about having pinned his crime on Julius to avoid the death penalty, and with the assurance that he would serve just fifteen years in prison.”
In addition, his attorneys “failed to show the jury a photograph showing Jones’ very close cropped hair at the time of the crime, proving he could not be the person who the victim’s sister described as “having half an inch of hair sticking out from underneath a stocking cap.”
Despite a promise in September 2018 that Jones’ lawyers could examine Jones’ case files relating to the prosecution, that commitment was not fulfilled. The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission anticipated such lack of transparency, recommending, “All Oklahoma district attorneys’ offices and the Office of the Attorney General should be required to allow open-file discovery at all stages of a capital case, including during the direct appeal, state post-conviction review, federal habeas corpus review, and any clemency proceedings.”
The Commission noted, “In 1910, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) likewise recognized that race-based exclusion violates the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in practice, many jurisdictions across the nation routinely excluded — and often continue to exclude — blacks from jury service.”
Commission co-chair former Gov. Brad Henry said, “Many of the findings of the Commission’s year-long investigation were disturbing and led members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death.”
“The options available to Julius Jones to pursue claims related to his wrongful conviction and racism have been thwarted by the courts,” Baich told The City Sentinel. “Instead of looking at the merits of his claims, the courts repeatedly relied on procedural technicalities to avoid deciding these hard issues. We are now asking the Pardon and Parole Board to take a close and careful look at this case, and use their powers under Oklahoma law to right the numerous wrongs that the courts declined to address.”
Baich added, “Under Oklahoma law, an in-custody prisoner can only ask for the sentence to be commuted. This is the only relief now available in the clemency process and that is why Julius is asking for his death sentence to be commuted to time served. If he is released from prison, he can later ask for a pardon.”
Jones’ clemency petition is now under review by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board, which will determine whether his application for clemency will be permitted to advance and additional materials submitted.
“The Pardon and Parole Board can use its power and authority to look at this case, unrestrained by the procedural barriers that constrained the courts,” Baich said. “The Board can ask why the district attorney continues to refuse to make his file available to Julius’s defense team.”
The clemency petition and more information on Julius’ case can be found at justiceforjulius.com.
Watch “The Last Defense” documentary online now.
Links to the petition and each letter are listed below:
Julius Jones’ Clemency Petition can be found here.
The letter of support from National Evangelical Leaders.
The letter of support from the Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City can be accessed here.
The letter of support from Witness to Innocence can be accessed here.
The letter of support from the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
The letter of support from Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert can be accessed here:
The OK NAACP’s 2018 letter calling for the release of Mr. Jones’ files can be accessed here.
State Senator George Young’s Tulsa World opinion editorial about the case can be accessed here.
The Congressional Black Caucus’ 2018 letter of support.
Information to write a letter of support for Julius can be found here.
Note: Patrick B. McGuigan signed the letter of support for the Jones clemency petition. McGuigan is a member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) who writes frequently on criminal justice and other legal policy issues.