EDMOND, Okla. (KFOR) – Over the course of many years, KFOR has heard from several Julius Jones supporters. We have also interviewed his family members multiple times, but we had never heard from the family of Paul Howell.
For 22 years, they denied every request for an interview, and those requests came from news organizations around the world.
Last week, the Howell family decided to break their silence to fight what they say are outright lies about the case.
“Growing up without a dad is difficult. There are a lot of moments in life that you experience as a daughter that you want your dad to be there for,” Rachel Howell, Paul Howell’s daughter, said. “My sister got married a few years ago. Luckily, my uncles got to walk her down the aisle both of them, which is beautiful, but I couldn’t help thinking of him the whole time. Graduating high school. Going to college. All those big moments. I wish he was there for those. It’s been really hard not having him here.”
For the past three years, that painful absence has been coupled with new agony.
“It’s sad to me,” Bill Howell, Paul Howell’s brother, said. “It makes me angry.”
The Howell family has watched as support for Julius Jones has grown. For them, it is like salt in a wound that will never truly heal.
On the night of July 28, 1999, Paul Howell was gunned down in his driveway.
In the middle of a divorce, he was living with his parents and leaning on his family for support. They were helping him care for his two little girls, 9-year-old Rachel and 7-year-old Abby.
He and his sister Megan had taken the girls shopping for school supplies and then to get ice cream.
Prosecutors say they were followed home that night by Julius Jones and Christopher Jordan, who had been driving around looking for a Suburban to steal.
Paul, Megan, and the girls were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“When we pulled up in the driveway and stopped, I looked over and saw Julius Jones walking up to the car,” Rachel Howell said. “He shot my dad, and I watched my dad’s head go like that. That is the vision that I have every night is my dad’s head falling to the right.”
Since 2002, Julius Jones has been on death row for the murder of Paul Howell.
Three years ago, a television documentary called “The Last Defense” highlighted Jones’ case, suggesting the trial was tainted and the wrong man had been convicted. Soon, a “Justice for Julius” crusade launched with money and celebrity backing. The Howell family found it overwhelming.
“This is David versus Goliath,” Clayton Howell, Paul Howell’s nephew said. “We don’t have the PR firm. We don’t have the Hollywood backing, but we have the truth, and we’re sitting here willing to tell it.”
A group called “Represent Justice,” a 501 c3 based in California, has poured money into the fight to free Julius Jones. Last year, a board member for that organization, who is also a film producer, invited Kim Kardashian to visit Jones in prison.
“You look at these celebrities and people who are out there, and they’ve been spoon fed the exact same story, and they don’t even bother to go check the facts themselves,” Clayton Howell said. “Every one of them hits the same points that are the same lies.”
“They were not at the trial. They have never read the trial transcripts. They have never read the transcripts of the evidentiary hearings or the appeals, but yet they believe the Facebook and the Twitter lawyers and proponents who are putting out all these lies and information,” Bill Howell, Paul Howell’s brother, said.
The Howell family believes the funding and the celebrity backing are part of a much bigger campaign.
“Whatever the agenda is, maybe it’s to make a movie, to write a book at the end, I don’t know,” Brian Howell, Paul Howell’s brother, said. “They’ve certainly taken the truth and justice and totally eliminated that and taken it out of the equation.”
And the equation, they say, boils down to simple facts – facts of the case they have listed on JusticeForPaulHowell.com. It is their attempt to battle misinformation.
“I think the most common one that you hear is about his alibi the night of the murder,” Clayton Howell said. “I always like to say the most consistent thing about his alibi is how inconsistent it is.”
Jones and his family have claimed that he was at his parents’ house at the time of the murder.
“His girlfriend testified that he was on the southside of Oklahoma City during the time of the murder. Later in an appeal, this is when this story of him being at home with his family developed. The problem is, during the trial, he had repeatedly admitted to both of his trial attorneys that his family was mistaken and that he was not at home that night, and they were talking about the previous night before,” Clayton Howell said. “They also claim there was a family friend there the night that could corroborate his alibi. That family friend, too, said that the family was mistaken, and it was the night before.”
And that is not the only testimony about his whereabouts that night.
“I think one of the ones that is most ignored, two uninvolved testified at trial that they saw Julius Jones with a Suburban the night of the murder,” Clayton Howell said.
There are claims that Jones did not have the opportunity to testify himself. Trial transcripts say otherwise. Jones repeatedly declined to testify in his own defense.
“Julius Jones has also had every opportunity to testify,” Clayton Howell said.
The family also contests the claims that Jones was a football player at the University of Oklahoma. In reality, he was never on any OU athletic team. Some of his supporters also say he was a promising college student. However, OU denied him financial aid after he failed his first semester with a 0.8 GPA. Jones never finished his second semester.
Alleged confessions from other death row inmates who claimed to have “framed” Jones were dismissed, because their stories did not corroborate, and one could not pass a polygraph test and was considered a “pathological liar.”
Then there is that infamous red bandana. Megan Howell Tobey was the only eyewitness who saw it to testify at trial.
“I gave a description of the shooter that night,” she said. “I said he had a black stocking cap, a red bandana, a white t-shirt, and jeans.”
A red bandana was found in Jones’ home wrapped around a gun that ballistics verified as the murder weapon.
DNA testing on the bandana did not exonerate Jones, instead it showed the probability of randomly selecting an unrelated individual with the same DNA profile is about one in 110 million within the African American population. Christopher Jordan’s DNA was not found.
Meanwhile, Jones’ supporters want him exonerated, and that is what scares the Howell family most.
“I’m petrified,” Megan Howell Tobey said. “I cannot go outside at night. I haven’t done it for 22 years.”
Jones does have a violent background.
On at least three separate occasions, he stole property at gunpoint and even pleaded guilty to a robbery with a firearm just six days before Howell’s murder. Additionally, prison photos show Jones now has gang-affiliated tattoos.
“Active gang member turned back on the streets because of some socio-political agenda,” Brian Howell said.
Law enforcement officials say Jones has been caught sending letters threatening to kill other people.
“I suffered from PTSD after the incident,” Rachel Howell said. “I couldn’t go into public places for a few years and had extreme panic attacks. I still get scared.”
Paul Howell’s parents outlived him, haunted by the image of their son slipping away.
“Seeing my parents huddled over my brother’s body, and my mother saying, ‘Please be alive. Please be alive.’ They never got over that night,” Megan Howell Tobey said. “They were never happy again, and they died without ever seeing justice for their son.”
“I’ve had to really face this as an adult, because I was little when this happened,” Rachel Howell said “So when this all started blowing up in the media, and celebrities and “The Last Defense,” I had to sit there and be like ‘Ok. So, did he do it?’ And I needed to form an opinion for myself, and so I dug into everything, because I wanted to know. This is my life. This is my trauma, and, yeah, he’s guilty.”
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended to change Jones’ sentence from the death penalty to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Prior to that, 13 appellate judges had already reviewed Jones’ case, and the Supreme Court had turned down four opportunities to review it.