OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – On Monday morning, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to move death row inmate Julius Jones into stage two of the commutation process, granting him a commutation hearing.
“I was so, and I’m still in shock right now,” Antoinette Jones, Julius’ sister, said. “I’ve definitely been thanking God, I’ve been giving all praises to God.”
Jones’ family and legal team gathered Monday afternoon to discuss the news.
“This is a chance for Julius to appear before a fair and impartial venue, so he can fully tell his story,” Dale Baich, Julius’ federal public defender, said.
Shortly after the vote, a group of local activists and Jones’ supporters also gathered outside the Pardon and Parole Board to celebrate the news.
“I had every expectation that today they were going to get it right,” T. Sheri Dickerson, director of the Oklahoma City BLM chapter, said.
In July of 1999, Edmond businessman Paul Howell was shot and killed in the driveway of his parents’ Edmond home. Investigators say the alleged suspect took off in Howell’s Suburban after killing the businessman.
At the time of the crime, Julius Jones was a 19-year-old honor student on a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma.
Jones was arrested and was put on trial for the murder.
Jones never took the stand, and he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death.
His supporters said his original defense team failed him, never even bringing up his alibi for the night of the murder.
However, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said those defending Jones have “disseminated misinformation and lies regarding the trial and evidence” in the case.
The Jones family has always maintained Julius’ innocence.
“As God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Howell being shot and killed,” Jones said in his clemency report. “I have spent the past 20 years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness and was not at.”
In January of 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not get involved in the case when Jones’ attorney argued that people of color in Oklahoma are more likely to be sentenced to death when the victim in the case is white.
Weeks later, his attorneys filed a new appeal asking the court to consider evidence against a specific juror.
That juror is accused of using a racial slur when referring to Jones during the trial, and reportedly told another member of the jury that someone should shoot Jones ‘behind the jail.’
Defense attorneys say the judge in the case knew about the conversation, but didn’t remove the juror from the trial.
However, the Supreme Court still denied Jones’ petition for a judicial review.
“The U.S. Supreme Court twice declined to look at the issues in Julius’ case, issues related to racism,” Baich told News 4.
In recent months, Jones’ case has gained national attention with many people calling on state leaders to intervene.
However, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says they have the right man behind bars.
“Julius Jones murdered Paul Howell in cold blood in front of his sister and daughters,” Hunter said. “No celebrity imploration or profusion of misinformation will change that.”
Hunter says one of the key factors in the case was a red bandana that was found wrapped around the murder weapon in Jones’ home.
In 2018, the bandana was tested for DNA evidence after Jones’ defense attorneys claimed the evidence would prove that Jones was being framed.
However, the results of the DNA profile showed the probability of the DNA belonging to someone other than Jones was one in 110 million African Americans.
Hunter released this statement on Monday, following the pardon and parole board’s vote:
“With the exception of Judge Allen McCall, I am disappointed in the members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. The three members who voted in favor of moving Jones to stage two did not apply objective standards to the law or the evidence. I encourage those members to go back and look at the 33-page protest letter and 849-page appendix we submitted last Monday, which completely invalidates every claim that Julius Jones is innocent. My office will continue to stand on the irrefutable facts of this case and with the family of Paul Howell by opposing Jones’ request for relief from the Pardon and Parole Board.”
Oklahoma County D.A. David Prater also released a statement Monday:
“My heart breaks for the family of Paul Howell today. My thoughts and prayers are with them as they continue to deal with unimaginable pain.”
Last week, Jones’ legal team sent News 4 a letter, along with a video of Roderick Wesley, who allegedly served time with Jones’ co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, in an Arkansas penitentiary.
Wesley claims Jordan, confessed multiple times to murdering a man and framing Julius.
“I looked at it as if it was my situation, I would want someone who has information to go ahead and do that. Because this is a man’s life on the line,” Wesley said. “I can sit here and say he did admit to me that it was him who killed that guy.”
That same week, Prater sent a letter to the pardon and parole board, asking them not to grant Jones a commutation hearing. His letter did not address this new video.
“After 20 years all we are still asking if for a chance to let the truth come out,” Antoinette Jones said Monday.
According to Hunter, Jones’ stage two commutation hearing is scheduled for June.
Jones’ attorneys tell News 4 they do not yet have an exact date.