(Trends Wide) — Julius Jones is scheduled to be executed today at 4 pm CT, unless he is granted clemency by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.
Even as time is running out, the Republican governor has yet to say whether he will accept a recommendation from the Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Paroles, which voted 3-1 on November 1 to commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Trends Wide has contacted Governor Stitt’s office and received no response.
“This governor has nothing to pray for, he has to make a decision,” said Cece Jones-Davis, director of the Justice for Julius campaign, referring to reports that the governor had been in “deep prayer” for the decision.
“Governor, you still have a chance, you still have time,” he said. “You have time, Governor Stitt, to get this right.”
The decision in the last few hours comes after years of protests over Jones’ death sentence.
Speaking with Trends Wide’s Don Lemon on Wednesday night, Jones’s mother raised concerns about the governor’s inaction thus far. “I really don’t know what to say to him because he has assured us that he would make the decision quickly,” Madeline Davis-Jones said. “And if this is fast, we will have problems again.”
Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years in connection with the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones says he is innocent, as are his family, lawyers and supporters. Howell’s family, however, remains convinced of Jones’ guilt.
Supporters protest at the governor’s mansion
Jones’s case has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, in part because of the ABC documentary series “The Last Defense,” which featured his case in 2018.
More than 6 million people have signed a Justice for Julius petition saying he has been on death row due to “fundamental flaws in the system charged with deciding” his guilt, including ineffective and inexperienced defense attorneys, racial prejudice among his jury and alleged misconduct by the prosecutor.
That support has only grown with the impending execution date. Supporters have gathered near the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City for the past few nights, with some even pitching tents overnight, Trends Wide affiliate KOCO reported.
At a news conference Wednesday night, Jones’ mother described her son’s scheduled execution as a lynching.
“If you think Julius is guilty, give him a fair trial. Do it again, do it right!” Davis-Jones said as the crowd erupted in applause. “If my son is executed tomorrow or any day, it should be without a doubt. Not even a little doubt.”
Stars who have advocated for clemency
Star Kim Kardashian, who has long advocated against Jones’ death sentence, actors Kerry Washington and Mandy Patinkin, and even professional athletes like Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield have been wearing their voices to ask the governor to forgive Jones.
“It’s a shame he has come this far,” Mayfield told reporters Wednesday while crying. Mayfield played soccer at the University of Oklahoma. “Hopefully God can step in and handle it properly and do the things it needs to do.”
Support for Jones has also gone international, with a representative from the European Union intervening through a letter to Stitt.
“We respectfully urge you to exercise all the powers vested in your office to grant clemency to Mr. Julius Jones,” he wrote Stavros Lambrinidis, EU ambassador to the United States.
What the victim’s family says
Howell was killed in a carjacking on the night of July 28, 1999. At around 9:30 pm, Howell, his sister, and their daughters pulled into their parents’ driveway in their 1997 Suburban, according to court documents. Howell’s sister told her daughters to gather their belongings and was getting out of the vehicle when she heard a gunshot, court documents say.
Howell’s sister looked back, court documents say, and saw a black man who she said was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt, a black cap and a red scarf over his face. The shooter fired again as Howell’s sister and their daughters ran into the home, the documents say. Howell died around 1:45 the next morning.
Jones, 19 at the time, was arrested on July 31, a day after authorities found the murder weapon wrapped in a red scarf inside his family’s home.
He was tried alongside a co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, according to online court records. Jordan testified against Jones, who was convicted and sentenced to death.
Victim’s daughter says family has been ‘revictimized’
Howell’s daughter Rachel and her family believe that Jones is guilty of her father’s death. She said in a statement to Trends Wide that Jones, her family and the defense team “want people to believe that Julius Jones is completely innocent, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against him.”
“Overall, this has been extremely hard on our family,” he said, “as Julius Jones re-victimized us when we did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Davis-Jones, Julius Jones’ mother, has called the last two decades “a nightmare for my family,” but said she will keep the Howell family in her prayers.
“I know what it is like to have a loved one taken away from you and constantly relive that loss. I hope and pray that they find healing and peace,” Davis-Jones said.
There are conflicting stories about the evidence in Jones’ case
The case has been marked by severe conflicts over the evidence against Jones, as well as questions about the reliability of his co-defendant’s testimony.
First, there is the alibi. Jones’ family said he was at home the night of the murder, according to the clemency petition.
Then-Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office said the alibi was thoroughly investigated and found not credible, adding that the claim was explored at an evidentiary hearing ordered by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.
Jones himself was inconsistent about where he was the night of the murder, prosecutors said, adding that two of Jones’ trial attorneys testified that he told them his family was wrong and that he was not home when Howell was killed.
Another point of contention has been over a red handkerchief, which was found inside the Jones family home with the murder weapon wrapped in it.
The case of the co-defendant
The clemency petition cites several people who said their co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, admitted to killing Howell and hiding the gun and handkerchief inside Jones’s home.
The petition also said that Jordan spent the night at the home the day after the murder.
Jordan was released in 2014, according to Jones’ clemency petition. A lawyer for Jordan, Billy Bock, told ABC News in September that “Chris Jordan maintains his position that his role in the death of Paul Howell was an accessory to Julius Jones. Mr. Jordan testified truthfully at the jury trial of the Mr. Jones. And denies ‘confessing’ to anyone “.
The prosecution pointed to the DNA tests carried out at the request of the defense on the red handkerchief. The results, the office said in a document released in July 2020, indicated that the main component of the DNA profile matched Jones and excluded Jordan.
In response, Jones’ team said DNA test results were limited and Jordan’s DNA could not be excluded.
The jury was also not shown a photo of Jones, taken days before Howell’s murder, which the petition would have shown did not match the shooter’s description. Several jurors have indicated that this evidence could have changed the outcome of the case.
Alleged racial prejudice
Then there is the issue of the alleged racial bias in the case. According to the petition, a juror said she heard another juror refer to Jones as the ‘n’ word. Additionally, when Jones was arrested, a police officer also called him the ‘n’ word, the petition alleges.
The prosecution disputes the claims of racial bias, noting that the juror who claimed to have heard another use of the ‘n’ word did not specifically raise the issue during Jones’ trial.
She had drawn the court’s attention to another comment made by a juror, but according to the prosecution, an appeal found it unlikely that the juror did not mention the racial epithet when she reported the other comment.
Jones and his supporters, however, have also repudiated these arguments.
Trends Wide’s Raja Razek, Theresa Waldrop, Dakin Andone, Amy Simonson, and Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.