The death row inmate’s fate is now up to Governor Kevin Stitt, who can either accept or reject the board’s decision.
On Sept. 13, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3 to 1, with one member recusing, to recommend commuting Julius Jones’ death sentence, altering it to life in prison. Adam Luck, the board’s chairman, said he still has “doubts in this case.”
Julius Jones was convicted of the murder of Paul Howell in 1999. Jones was a 19 year-old freshman at the University of Oklahoma at the time of the crime. He was sentenced alongside Chris Jordan, who gave testimony that he was with Jones when he committed the murder. Jordan, who claimed in his testimony that he saw Jones kill Howell, was released after 15 years in prison.
However, Chris Jordan’s prisonmates claim he confessed to the murder and claimed he pinned it on Julius Jones. Jordan also said he had planted the evidence that the police found inside the Jones household. The evidence, a red bandana, was recently DNA tested and found a major match for neither Jordan nor Jones.
Many have questioned the performance of Jones’ public defenders, one of whom claims to have been juggling over 70 cases at the time. Many key pieces of evidence in the case were never presented to the jury, and the cross-examination of Chris Jordan was severely mishandled.
The Oklahoma City District Attorney at the time of the case, Bob Macy, had a reputation for giving the death penalty to many convicted criminals. Macy sent 54 people to death row, more than any other DA in America’s history. 23 of these convictions relied on forensic evidence from Joyce Gilchrist, who was later dismissed for supplying false testimony and lab results.
Since the conviction, many have raised doubts about his guilt. Julius Jones’ alibi, that he was at his parents’ home the night of the murder, has been corroborated by his family. Amanda Bass, Jones’ new current attorney, has claimed there is “compelling evidence” that suggests his innocence.
Paul Howell’s sister, who was present on the night of the murder, still Insists on Jones’ guilt. She claims she knows “beyond a doubt” that Jones was the one who killed her brother. The Howell family has expressed their hope Governor Stitt will reject the commutation, with Paul’s brother Brian Howell saying they look forward to “completing the mission.”
Julius Jones has had advocates from all over the nation, including Kim Kardashian and, more recently, late night host James Corden. His advocates often view Jones’ conviction as an example of racial prejudice within the justice system. Those who believe in Jones’ guilt have pointed to this outpouring of support as a source of bias for those involved in handling the current commutation process.
Current Oklahoma County District Attorney, David Prater, attempted to sue both Governor Stitt and the parole board after the board voted to give Jones’ commutation a second hearing in March 2021. After the commutation was recommended by the board, Prater criticized the ruling, calling it a takeover of the justice system by “Hollywood and the George Soroses of the world.” Both he and the Howell family have raised concerns over the impartiality and legitimacy of the Pardon and Parole Board’s handling of the case. He pleaded for Governor Stitt to look over the case and deny the commutation.
The board’s ruling will have to be upheld by Governor Kevin Stitt, who has no set time requirement for his response. Stitt delivered a non-committal message through a spokeswoman, saying the governor will “carefully consider the … board’s recommendation” and that the governor won’t have another comment until their final decision is reached. If the execution proceeds, it would be the first in Oklahoma since 2015.