OKLAHOMA CITY - A district judge has ordered for joint communication in DNA testing as attorneys for a man on death row work to overturn his conviction.
Julius Jones, then 19, was convicted and sentenced for the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell who was gunned down in cold blood in his driveway. Since then, Jones' family and friends have maintained his innocence.
His father, Anthony Jones, was among several family members and friends who were at the Oklahoma County Courthouse on Friday.
"This has been a 20 year nightmare and we would love to get out of it," Jones said.
Six months ago, the state agreed to test certain items at the request of Jones' attorneys. The defense is seeking DNA analysis on a red bandanna, a key piece of evidence that was not tested by police in 1999.
"The only witness to the shooting said that the shooter wore a red bandanna over his face. What we’re trying to determine is if there is DNA in that bandanna that can clear Mr. Jones," attorney Dale Baich said. "The state has had the ability to test this for the last 19 years and for whatever reason, they chose not to so last year, we asked to do that testing."
Testing is being done at an independent lab. According to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, one of his lawyers called months ago asking for a status update but were told they could not speak about the matter. That's where Prater's office has asked the court to step in.
"We’re not afraid of the truth, but we need total transparency," Prater said. "Really, we just want to know when this is all going to be done. You’ve had the state’s evidence for six months. We haven’t seen it for six months. We’re starting to be concerned when you’re talking about where our evidence is and what’s going on with it."
Judge Bill Graves ordered Friday morning for joint communication between the lab, state, and defense meaning any conversations via phone or email, for example, must include all parties.
"It’s what we offered to the state before we went into the hearing. We made this offer two weeks ago," Baich said.
Baich told reporters after the hearing on Friday, this case does not hinge on DNA testing alone.
"The state relied on snitches to convict Julius. The defense put on no case," he said. "The co-defendant got a ‘sweetheart’ deal for testifying against Mr. Jones and that information was not disclosed at trial."
Prater said the door for communication has now been opened, but there are no upcoming court dates scheduled.
"In spite of what everyone wants to say about how they feel about this case, on one side or the other of it. The truth is, he was convicted by 12 jurors and nothing has disturbed this case whatsoever. He’s on death row as a killer," he said.
An execution date has not been set yet, as Oklahoma is currently working on new protocols.