For nearly two decades, now 40-year-old Julius Jones has been on death row, and he is fighting for his life, given that he is on the verge of being executed next week Thursday the 18th.
Jones appeared in front of an Oklahoma parole board yesterday. The board members vote of 3-1 to approve clemency for Jones, with the recommendation that Jones be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Jones says he did not commit the 1999 killing of Paul Howell who was 45-years-old at the time. At the time of his arrest, three days after Howell’s murder, Jones was 19 at the time. Court documents say he approached Howell’s car at around 9:00 p.m. Howell was exiting his car along with his sister and two children when Jones was believed to have ambushed Howell and killed him.
Court reports showed Howell’s sister took the children and ran into the home. However, before she fled for her life, she told police that she witnessed a black man wearing jeans, a white T-shirt, a black cap, and a red bandana over his face.
The following morning, Howell passed away. According to documents, when police searched Jones’ home, they discovered a gun tied in a red bandana inside Jones’s family’s home. Then-Attorney General Mike Hunter said there was ample evidence that pointed to Jones’ guilt.
Jones said at the time of Howell’s death, he was at home with his family. Yet, Hunter told ABC News last year that evidence showed Jones’ alibi was weak at best. Hunter said Jones’ claim was completely investigated, and there was no evidence that he was at his family’s home. In addition, Hunter wrote that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had an evidentiary hearing in which they ordered and found no evidence that Jones was at the location.
Furthermore, according to accounts, Jones provided mixed messages about his whereabouts the night Howell was murdered. In addition, Jones’ DNA showed up on the red bandana. In response, Jones’ team said the DNA tests results were limited.
According to court records, Christopher Jordan was also involved in the crime. Both men were on trial together when Jordan accepted a plea deal and was given a 30-year prison sentence for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a robbery. Jordan testified against Jones and said Jones was the trigger man that night. The petition also cited several individuals who claimed Jordan admitted to killing Howell.
Jordan’s then-lawyer Billy Bock sent a statement to ABC News earlier this year saying, “Chris Jordan maintains his position that his role in the death of Paul Howell was as an accomplice to Julius Jones. Mr. Jordan testified truthfully,” According to Jordan’s clemency petition, he was released from prison in 2014.
However, Jones’ mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, said in a statement through her attorney. “My son Julius has been on death row for over twenty years for a murder he did not commit, and every day of that has been a waking nightmare for my family.” Jones’ new lawyer filed a petition citing that Jones failed to receive a fair trial. In their argument, Jones’ attorneys said the defense team who handled Jones’ trial was “inexperienced, overworked, and under-resourced public defenders.” It is being argued that Jones’ then defense team failed to offer evidence or call any witness on his behalf.
For example, according to the clemency petition, a photo of Jones was not offered into evidence days before Howell’s murder. If the image had been presented to the jury, its purpose would have been to show Jones did not match the shooter’s description. Since Jones’ conviction, several jurors have indicated that had this evidence been known, it might have changed the case’s outcome.
Also, information in the petition said some jurors engaged in racial bias, referring to Jones as a nigger. Jones’ current lawyers said the arresting officer that night also called Jones a nigger.
“Jones had his day in court,” Hunter said in that statement. “We’ve heard a lot recently from those advocating for his release. I’m here today to support the Howell’s family’s plea for justice. They are the victims in this case, and the pain of their loss is reawakened with each misguided public appeal on Jones’ behalf.”
Although the board made their decision, it’s up to Gov. Kevin Stitt to determine the final outcome. Stitt told members of the media he would not make his decision based on the boards’ vote, although he has not said, as of this report, one way or the other his decision.
One of Jones’ lawyers, Amanda Bass, said in a statement, “The Pardon and Parole Board has now twice voted in favor of commuting Julius Jones’ death sentence, acknowledging the grievous errors that led to his conviction and death sentence. We hope that Governor Stitt will exercise his authority to accept the Board’s recommendation and ensure that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man.”
In 2018, ABC aired a documentary series called “The Last Defense Jones”, which sparked the public’s interest in the case. More than 6.4 million people have signed a Change.org petition encouraging Stitt to spare Jones’ life.
“It means the world to me,” Jones’ younger sister, Antoinette Jones, told CNN in an interview. “It means that we’re not alone anymore. It means that we can kind of breathe a little bit easier, knowing that other people are willing to fight alongside us. “I appreciate that we have the help now,” she said, “because we didn’t have that 22 years ago.””