OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It is a big day in the case against an Oklahoma death row inmate.
On Monday, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to advance death row inmate Julius Jones’ case to a ‘stage two’ hearing that will take place later this year.
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,” Dale Baich, one of Jones’ federal defense attorneys, told News 4.
In recent months, Jones’ case has gained national attention with many people calling on state leaders to intervene.
Justice for Julius coalition leader CeCe Jones-Davis says organizers are asking the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to commute and reduce Jones’ death sentence.
“Here is a man with an alibi, who did not match the eye-witness description of the shooter, and who was convicted by the testimony of incredibly unreliable witnesses motivated by secret plea deals,” she said. “It has been more than one-year since Julius submitted his commutation application and we want the Pardon and Parole Board to grant Julius a hearing that will be full and fair and will also allow the board to consider the new evidence. Anything less would be a tremendous miscarriage of justice.”
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.
On Monday morning, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to advance Jones’ case.
Jones’ defense team recently shared new evidence, including a sworn affidavit from a man who said that Jones’ codefendant confessed to the murder.
“Christopher Jordan spent years behind bars casually confessing to murder and to framing Julius,” said Dale Baich, Julius’ attorney. “It is unimaginable that the state would execute a man given that another suspect in the case confessed to the crime multiple times…We are thrilled that the Board has agreed to consider the growing body of evidence that Julius is innocent, and convinced that any fair and impartial review of the facts of the case will result in the commutation of his sentence and his release from prison.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter released the following statement on the decision:
“With the exception of Judge Allen McCall, I am disappointed in the members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board,” Attorney General Hunter said. “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 District Attorney David Prater released the following statement, “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.”
Jones’ stage two commutation hearing is scheduled for June.