A Favorable Vote for Julius Jones: What it Means and What’s Next
On Monday, September 13th, 2021 the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend sentence commutation on the case of death row inmate Julius Jones.
ABOUT THE CASE
Paul Howell was gunned down in his parents’ Edmond driveway in 1999 by a black man who shot twice and took his SUV, ultimately speeding away. Howell did not survive the gunshot wounds. The murder occurred in front of his two young daughters and his sister. Julius Jones was arrested for the crime, and convicted of the murder in 2002, after a long arduous capital murder trial that took place largely under the tenure of “Cowboy” Bob Macy (ranked the nation’s second “deadliest prosecutor” in a study by Harvard University). The arresting officer said a racial epithet when arresting Jones for the crime. Jones’ co-defendant was offered a secret deal by the prosecution to testify against Jones–receive a life sentence but get out on parole in 15 years.
Jones’ trial attorneys had never tried a death penalty case and admitted in several subsequent affidavits that their defense was ineffective. They did not object to several issues which would have been appealable. Without a preserved record, appellate courts cannot reach issues that may have tainted the prosecution or the jury’s result. Evidence also shows that a juror used the n-word before jury deliberations at the sentencing phase – the US Supreme Court has stated in multiple cases that blatant racism cannot be allowed to permeate a criminal prosecution. This juror’s statement alone should have caused a mistrial. Instead, Julius was sentenced to death. Since the conviction, two new individuals have come forward saying that co-defendant Christopher Jordan who is now out of prison – admitted to the crime.
Julius Jones has exhausted all of his appeals and the United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari on his case four times. Julius is out of options and almost out of time. The last chance he has to escape the death penalty is a sentence commutation recommended by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, and approved by Governor Kevin Stitt. Today, he is one step closer due to a favorable vote for commutation from the Board.
INTERFERENCE FROM THE OKLAHOMA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Only three members voted because over the weekend, District Attorney David Prater requested that board member Scott Williams recuse himself due to a prior business affiliation with Kelly Masters, a delegate speaking on behalf of Julius Jones during his hearing.
Masters is a lawyer and sports agent, and Williams said that he had been on an unrelated zoom call with her prior to Jones’ hearing. Williams stated several times that he was in compliance with the Pardon and Parole Board’s ethics rules, and that he felt he could vote fairly on the case — but out of an abundance of caution, he decided to recuse himself from the hearing to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
This recusal comes after District Attorney Prater petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to issue a Writ of Prohibition to prevent Chairman Adam Luck and Board Member Kelly Doyle from voting in Jones’ case. During a Referee Hearing friday, September 10th, 2021, the Oklahoma Supreme Court Referee heard arguments from Prater’s office on the need for an emergency ruling to prevent Luck and Doyle from voting on Jones’ commutation. The basis for Prater’s requests stems from the work Luck and Doyle do in their professional lives. Luck operates City Care, a non-profit dedicated to helping those who are unhoused. Doyle works for Center for Employment Opportunities which helps individuals leaving incarceration to find jobs. The Oklahoma Supreme Court denied DA Prater’s request to intervene in the hearing. Williams’ recusal was voluntary.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is directed by the Oklahoma Constitution to vote to recommend cases of pardons, paroles, commutations, and clemency. All of these recommendations go to the Governor for final approval (aside from grants of parole that are on crimes coded as non-violent, or administrative paroles).
The five-member board votes during their monthly meeting, and all of the recommendations are sent to the Governor’s office for review. There is no statutory time limit for the Governor to take action on commutation recommendations from the Board. Some recommendations from the board sit at the Governor’s office for months with no word as to whether they will be approved, while others have been approved mere days after a board vote.
The Governor’s office does an independent review of each case that is recommended to it from the Pardon and Parole Board.
The Governor can deny the request for commutation, leaving Julius on death row. The Governor can take the Board’s recommendation of commuting Julius sentence to LIFE, or he can change the recommendation. He can commute to time-served, or to a term of years. It is uncertain what road the Governor will take on Julius’ case, or when.
Follow @justice4julius on Twitter to get up-to-the-minute action alerts and updates on the case.