By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK –The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP), along with Cece Jones-Davis, Sing for Change founder, will host three free screenings of the ABC documentary “The Last Defense” in Oklahoma City in February. The screenings, held in conjunction with Black History Month, will examine the case of Julius Darius Jones, on Oklahoma’s death row. The public is invited to attend.
First airing last summer, three episodes of the 7-part docu-series The Last Defense will be shown (approx. 2 hours) this month, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session.
The project was executive produced by Academy award winning actress Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon, founders of JuVee Productions, to “give a voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful and culturally relevant narratives.” The couple partnered with XCON Productions and Lincoln Square Productions.
Davis says the docu-series spotlights serious flaws in the American justice system – and in particular the high rate of exonerated death row inmates.
“After learning about Julius Jones’ story on ‘The Last Defense’ and hearing directly from him, we are confident that when viewers see the final episode of his case, they will be shocked by the new information we have uncovered; information that his lawyers believe could ultimately compel the courts to revisit his case,” said London Square producer Gemma Jordan.
The first screening will be Saturday, Feb. 16 at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1829 NE 36th Street, from 6 – 9 p.m. Panelists are Rev. Larry Crudup, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church; Rex Friend, attorney and OK-CADP board member; and Cece Jones-Davis.
“We must continue to shed light on the inconsistencies of the Julius Jones case as well as other cases that have very clear and blatant racial bias,” stated Rev. Crudup. “The faith community must be a voice of reason and justice willing to speak out against the institutional sins of our nation; of which I believe this issue is one.”
Greater Cleaves CME Church, 1609 NE 48th Street, will be the site of an afternoon screening on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 1 – 4 p.m. Discussion panelists will include Leslie Fitzhugh, National Assn. of Blacks in Criminal Justice and OK-CADP board member; Jimmy Lawson, Rose State College adjunct professor and longtime friend of Julius Jones; Rev. James Dunbar, Senior Pastor, Greater Cleaves CME Church; and James Rowan, Oklahoma County Public Defender and OK-CADP board member.
On Sunday, Feb. 24, from 6 – 9 p.m. the film will be shown at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene, 4400 NW Expressway. Panelists will be Sara Bana, co-founder of Ending Violence Everywhere; Jimmy Lawson, James Rowan, and Ms. Jones-Davis.
“Julius Jones has firmly maintained his innocence while spending the last 19 years on death row. His story is finally heard in The Last Defense,” said Don Heath, OK-CADP chair. “People are moved and appalled when they watch the documentary. They can’t believe that things like this are still happening in Oklahoma.”
Each screening will begin with the episode (about 40 minutes) titled, “The Crime,” which examines how in 1999, Jones, a 19-year-old African American student on scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, was arrested days after a businessman was shot to death during a car-jacking gone wrong in Edmond, Oklahoma.
“The second (The Trial) and third (The Fight) episodes explore police and prosecutorial misconduct in the case, racism in the criminal justice system, as well as during Julius’s criminal proceedings, and raises serious questions about whether Julius was wrongfully convicted,” stated Dale Baich, a member of Jones’ legal team.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973, 163 individuals have been exonerated from death row in the U.S. – ten of those are from Oklahoma.
“It is as if God has opened the door to a dark room to shine light on the once-forgotten Julius Jones case,” Cece said. “It’s time for Oklahomans to deal with it.”