OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An expected large group of Oklahomans will present a petition that has over 6 million signatures to the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, calling for Julius Jones’ death sentence to be commuted.
Community members will gather with local clergy, elected officials and members of Jones’ family at 12 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at the Wesley United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City, 1401 NW 25th St. Together, they will present the petition to the Pardon and Parole Board.
The petition, started in 2019 on Change.org by Oklahoma activist and faith leader Cece Jones-Davis, now has more than 6.2 million signatures.
The Pardon and Parole Board has Jones listed in their March docket for Stage 1 commutation hearings, during which, the board will review a brief synopsis of Jones’ case before voting on whether to advance his application to Stage 2, a lengthier process that might result in a recommendation to commute his sentence, according to a news release that announced Thursday’s gathering.
When Jones’ supporters come together at Wesley United Methodist Church at noon, they will hear from faith leaders and listen to a gospel choir performance.
They will then, at 12:30 p.m., walk a short distance from the church to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board offices, 2915 N. Classen Blvd., where members of Jones’ family and clergy will present state officials with the petition calling for Jones’ release.
Standing up for Jones has become an important issue for Pastor Jon Middendorf and his Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene congregation.
“As people of faith, we can’t just stand by and let this man be executed,” Middendorf said. “There is real and compelling evidence that Julius is innocent. Taking his life would be a grave injustice as well as a terrible tragedy. We are lending our voices and prayers to this effort in the hopes that we can finally bring Julius home to his family.”
Jones was convicted for the July 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell, who was shot and killed in the driveway of his parents’ Edmond home. Investigators say the person who killed Howell drove off in Howell’s Suburban after killing him.
Jones was a 19-year-old honor student on a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma when Howell was killed.
He was arrested and put on trial for the murder. Jones never took the stand and he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death.
Jones’ 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.
Jones and his family has always maintained his 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 a previous 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.”
The U.S. Supreme Court announced in January of 2019 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 KFOR.
Support for Jones has spread across the nation, with citizens from throughout the country calling for his release. Celebrities such as football star Baker Mayfield and Kim Kardashian have also spoken out in support of Jones, calling for state leaders to intervene and for his sentence to be commuted.
Jones’ supporters marched 131 miles from the Oklahoma State Capitol to McAlester at the beginning of 2021. Their mission was to gather support for Jones.