Convicted of murder in a 1999 carjacking and facing a November 18th execution date, Julius Jones received a chance to plead his case for clemency before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. This is the same board that voted 3 to 1 in September to recommend the governor commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.
His followers, including Kim Kardashian and two prominent NFL quarterbacks, gathered more than a million signatures on a petition in support of Jones. Although the second vote of the board was identical to its first, it was evident from testimony at the recent hearing that some continue to doubt whether Jones deserves clemency. Whether his testimony at the hearing persuades Oklahoma's Governor Stitt to commute Jones' sentence is still a matter of "wait-and-see."
Carjacking and death witnessed by victim's daughters
If you believe the evidence presented by the prosecution at the original trial, Julius Jones approached a vehicle driven by 45-year-old Paul Howell as he pulled into the driveway of his home after an evening out with his two young daughters and sister, also inside the vehicle. Jones, according to witnesses, fired one shot at Howell from a handgun before driving off in the victim's automobile.
Jurors at the trial did not hear from Jones, who did not testify in his defense as was his constitutionally protected right. They did, however, hear from Christopher Jordan, who was initially implicated in the crime. Jordan avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in exchange for his testimony against Jones.
Jordan identified Jones as the shooter. Jordan also gave police information leading them to the Jones family home, where authorities found the gun used in the crime and a red bandana worn by the assailant. What did not come out at trial, because it was not disclosed to the defense by prosecutors, was that Jordan spent the night of the shooting at the Jones family home, which would have given him the ability to hide the items there if he were, as Jones claimed, the actual shooter.
A jury convicted Jones of murder in 2002. The same panel of jurors took only three hours to decide his sentence – death. Jordan was allowed to plead guilty to murder. He, on the other hand, was released from prison in 2014.
Jones testifies at the clemency hearing
Reading from a prepared statement at his recent hearing, Jones said he was not involved in, or even at the scene, of the killing. He went on to say that he did not learn of the murder until the day after it occurred and was at home with his family when the shooting took place. He also said that Jordan was the one who committed the crime.
Jones accused one of the witnesses who testified against him of lying at trial. He said that Ladell King, who testified that he saw Jones driving the victim's vehicle in Oklahoma City, actually came to him and asked for help selling the vehicle.
Minor inconsistencies between events at the trial and Jones' statement at the hearing have been raised by prosecutors and news reports. For example, Jones and his attorney at the clemency hearing claim that the jury was present when he asserted his right to refrain from testifying in his defense. A news report claims that transcripts of the trial show the exchange between Jones and the trial judge took place outside of the presence of jurors.
It now goes to the governor
Is Julius Jones an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted as his supporters, including Paul Howell's girlfriend, believe? Or has he manipulated public opinion to his favor as Paul Howell's daughter told the board? We will likely never know the truth, but the truth may not matter as it regards Jones' ultimate fate. That will be decided by the governor's office on or before November 18th.
November 18, 2021 - UPDATE:
In a surprise to many, on the date of Julius Jones' scheduled execution, Governor Stitt granted Jones' clemency request and commuted his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. The decision came literally only hours before Jones was set to be killed at the hands of the state of Oklahoma.