By Patrick B. McGuigan and Darla Shelden
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (Thursday, August 30, 2018) – On Friday, September 7, Oklahoma District Court Judge Bill Graves will preside over a hearing about a procedural question related to DNA testing in the case of Julius Jones, a death row prisoner who has always maintained his innocence for a 1999 murder.
The hearing will take place at 9 a.m. in Judge Graves’ courtroom #800, in the Oklahoma County District Court, 320 Robert S Kerr Ave, in downtown Oklahoma City.
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, which is testing a red bandana that the state neglected to test nineteen years ago.
The bandana is currently being tested for DNA at the expense and direction of Jones’ attorneys. The state recently agreed to this procedure.
“This evidence should have been tested 19 years ago,” said Dale Baich, federal public defender for Jones. “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.”
Jones’ legal team has previously argued: 1) There is no physical or forensic evidence tying Jones to the crime. 2) Jones has alibi witnesses that place him miles from the crime at the time it was committed, but his jury did not hear them. 3) The only physical description of the shooter in the case matches Jones’ co-defendant, who admitted involvement in the crime; not Jones. 4) According to sworn statements, the co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, (a high school teammate of Jones) who served 15 years and is now free, admitted to setting Jones up. 5) There is newly-discovered evidence that shows at least one juror harbored racial prejudice that influenced his vote to convict Jones.
Jones, an African American Oklahoma City resident, was on scholarship at the University of Oklahoma at the time of his arrest. While attending John Marshall High School, Jones – co-captain of his football, basketball, and track teams – was a member of the National Honor Society and graduated with a class rank of 12 out of 143, with a 3.8 grade point average.
Bolstering Jones’ defense case, in May 2017, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Commission Report concluded that there were various serious and systemic flaws in Oklahoma’s capital sentencing system.
Included at the end of the Commission’s report is a separate study entitled, “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides Committed Between 1990 and 2012” – which examines “the possibility that the race of the defendant and/or victim affects who ends up on death row.
The report found that a Black defendant like Jones, accused of killing a white male victim in Oklahoma is nearly three times more likely to receive a death sentence than if his victim were a nonwhite male.
Jones’ current lawyers state that there was “pervasive and highly racialized pre-trial media coverage” of Julius’s case, as well as “racialized remarks made by prosecutors and at least one juror” during Julius’s capital murder trial. (Third application for Post Conviction Relief)
Racial bias occurred when a police officer used a racial slur during Jones’ arrest, and new evidence shows a juror used the n-word before jury deliberations at the sentencing phase.
The State removed of all prospective black jurors except one during the jury selection process.
According to Jones’ legal team, “the U.S. Supreme Court has made unequivocally clear that our criminal justice system cannot tolerate such blatant examples of racial prejudice on the part of even a single juror. In this way, Jones’ rights under the state and federal constitutions have been violated and his conviction and death sentence should be overturned.”
In 1999, Paul Howell was fatally shot in the driveway of his parents’ home in Edmond during the theft of his SUV. Howell’s sister, who was a passenger in the vehicle and witnessed the shooting, testified that the shooter had approximately a half-inch of hair sticking out from underneath a stocking cap. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 10-11.)
At the trial, Jones’ underfunded and inexperienced public defenders, with no capital trial experience, failed to show the jury a photograph of Jones, taken a few days before the shooting, which showed that Jones’ had short cropped hair and Jordan had long, braided hair. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 10-11.)
Jordan was released in 2014, after serving only 15 years, despite the fact that the prosecution told jurors that he was facing 30 years to a lifetime of incarceration for his role in the crime. Two prisoners heard Jordan bragging that he set-up Julius, and that he would get out of prison in 15 years in exchange for his testimony.
In addition, jurors may not have known that Ladell King, another key witness against Jones, was never prosecuted in connection with the murder, despite his admitted involvement.
King’s police interrogation from July/August 1999 as well as his preliminary hearing and trial testimony includes his admissions to being involved in the crime on the night that it occurred. He admitted to keeping the stolen suburban at his apartment complex overnight, and assisting in transporting and selling the vehicle the next day. King also received less than the mandated sentence for habitual offenders in connection with unrelated charges. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 11, 13.).
In November 2017, Jones’ current legal team discovered new evidence that at least one juror harbored racial prejudice that influenced his vote to convict and sentence Mr. Jones to death. A juror reported telling the judge about another juror who said the trial was a waste of time and “they should just take the n-word out and shoot him behind the jail.’’ The juror reported that the juror who made this comment was never removed and the court did nothing. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at p. 14.)
On July 25, The City Sentinel broke the news that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) had withdrawn a June order denying requests to look at evidence of racial bias on the Oklahoma County jury that convicted death row inmate Julius Jones of murder in 1999.
The court has decided to take a fresh look at some questions raised by Jones’ attorneys earlier this year. The judges also concluded (Case #PCD-2017-1313) that they could not ignore court mismanagement of exhibits earlier this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court continues to review recent filings in the Jones case, with a fourteenth consideration of the matter pending at the High Court when justices return in September.
Under an “unbroken string of Supreme Court precedent,” Jones’ attorneys believe he is entitled to a reversal of his conviction and death sentence or, at a minimum, to an evidentiary hearing on his claim that the juror’s racial prejudice violated his rights under the state and federal constitutions.
“If Oklahoma is to have the death penalty, the State must do everything in its power to come to convictions and death sentences fairly and accurately, and give full consideration to all possible claims of wrongful conviction,” Baich said.
This summer ABC television aired the documentary series, “The Last Defense,” executive produced by Academy Award winning actress Viola Davis, which brought global attention to the details of Jones’ case, expressly uncovering new evidence. The docu-series can be seen online.
For more information on Jones’ case, visit justiceforjulius.com.
Jones’ Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief document can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/yalle4qj.
Links to all legal briefs can be found at the conclusion of the case background)
Jones’ Petition for Writ of Certiorari can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/y7pauq89