DNA provides twist in Oklahoma death row inmate’s quest for release

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Results from a tested red bandanna match the DNA for a death row inmate who has maintained his innocence for years, officials announced Wednesday.

Julius Jones was convicted in 2002 for the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell in 1999. Howell was gunned down in the driveway of his home.

Howell was 45 at the time of his murder and the father of two young children.

Earlier this year, Jones' defense filed a motion with the Oklahoma County District Court asking the judge to have the bandanna, which was found in Jones' home, tested for his DNA to prove his innocence.

The results of the DNA profile show the probability of the DNA belonging to someone other than Jones is one in 110 million African Americans.

“Our responsibility as the attorneys for the state in the criminal appeals process is to follow the law with the overarching goal of always finding the truth in the appeals process,” Attorney General Hunter said in a statement. “The lab results, which indicate that Julius Jones’s DNA is present on the red bandanna, is an additional validation of the trial and appellate process in proving his guilt. I hope and pray this result gives the family members and loved ones of Paul Howell peace of mind. I also hope that through this process all Oklahomans who are victims of atrocious crimes know that my office will continue doing everything we can to ensure evil people who commit atrocious crimes will stay in prison.”

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said those defending Jones have "disseminated misinformation and lies regarding the trial and evidence" in the case.

"We have never been afraid of the truth. The testing by the murderer’s own DNA lab corroborates the jury’s verdict and exonerates the investigators, prosecutors and jurors who the murderer’s defenders have slandered," District Attorney Prater said.

Even so, Jones' supporters say they are standing by his side.

"Our family, we still hope. Last night, we had a vigil prayer and it was just awesome," said Jones' mother Madeline Jones.

Jones' best friend Jimmy Lawson told News 4, he was not worried about the results of the testing further linking Jones to the crime.

"There were multiple individual strands of DNA on the bandana which means really at the end result, no one individual could really be pointed to as far as the DNA goes," Lawson said. "DNA testing is just a piece of the pie. There’s so many other issues for this case that needs to be looked at."

Don Heath, chair of the Oklahoma Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, said he still believes Jones is innocent.

"I know David Prater. I know Mike Hunter. I know they’re good people. Julius Jones is a good person too," Heath told News 4.

Dale Baich, one of Jones' attorney, released this statement in light of the results:
"The final report shows that the bandana was not worn over the mouth of the shooter because there is no saliva on the sample. However, there are numerous profiles on the bandana and the experts need to take a close and careful look at these results. The testing cannot tell us when DNA was deposited on the bandana, which is why we cannot draw any conclusions when there are profiles of three or more individuals. Additionally, the final report showed that the DNA sample of Mr. Jones’ co-defendant Chris Jordan yielded only a partial profile that could not be compared to the three or more other profiles located on the bandana.
While no one can draw any final conclusions at this stage, we do know that Julius Jones’s trial was tainted by racial bias and there is overwhelming doubt about the fairness and reliability of the conviction and death sentence. We have always known that Mr. Jones’ DNA could be on the bandana because his DNA was present in his parents’ home where the red bandana was planted. At trial, the prosecution did not object when the defense said Mr. Jordan admitted hiding the gun in Mr. Jones’ parents’ home.
These facts about Mr. Jones’ case are incontrovertible: several eyewitnesses place Mr. Jones at his parents’ home at the time of the murder; Mr. Jones’ co-defendant matched the only eyewitness description of the shooter while Mr. Jones did not (see images here); Mr. Jones’ co-defendant admitted his involvement in the crime, was heard bragging that he set up Mr. Jones, and is now free after serving only 15 years. Additionally, there is strong evidence that the prosecution misrepresented to the jury the deal that was made with Mr. Jones’ co-defendant at trial. The prosecutor’s files must be released in order for there to be public confidence in this conviction. There is much more to do moving forward and we are confident that in the end Mr. Jones will be vindicated."

We spoke with David McKenzie on Wednesday, who represented Jones in the 2002 trial. He said he was worried the results would "turn the public" against Jones, also claiming the ABC docu-series "The Last Defense" including inconsistencies about what happened in court.

"One of the defenses was, and it was a very viable defense, that the person that Mr. Howell’s sister Ms. Tobey identified could not have been Julius Jones because of hair length. We had photographs of Mr. Jones, showing that he kept his hair very short. Not shaved but incredibly short whereas Mr. Jordan, the other defendant, who was testifying against him had cornrows, an inch maybe longer but certainly fuzzy and that type of thing," McKenzie said. "What they told me was there was no photographs of Mr. Jones to show the length of his hair at the time, and when they made a comment about that…I think I made a comment ‘oh my’. Maybe I was negligent. Maybe I was…in so many words, I didn’t do a good job if I didn’t do that."

McKenzie pointed News 4 to court transcriptions of closing arguments during the 2002 trial. Referring to co-defendant Chris Jordan, he told the jury "You've seen the pictures of Mr. Jordan and Mr. Jones in this case. I want to show them to you again."

News 4 reached out to ABC for a comment on McKenzie's claim. We have not heard back yet.

To read the DNA test results, click here: https://bit.ly/2qm7Bwn.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.