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'They just want justice for him': Trae Young, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin request Gov. Stitt to commute sentence of Oklahoma inmate on death row

Julius Jones, who is on death row for a murder conviction in the July 1999 killing of Paul Howell, is pictured in this 2018 file photo. [Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File]
Julius Jones, who is on death row for a murder conviction in the July 1999 killing of Paul Howell, is pictured in this 2018 file photo. [Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File]

NBA stars Trae Young, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin wrote to Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma's Pardon & Parole Board, urging them to commute the sentence of Julius Jones, an Oklahoma inmate on death row. The news was first reported by

Jones was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death in 2002 for the killing of Edmond businessman Paul Howell in 1999. He has claimed innocence for 20 years and applied for clemency in October 2019 to the Pardon & Parole board.

The case recently became more prominent in the public discourse after Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City released a list of demands to Gov. Stitt, which included the clemency and release of Jones.

However, Griffin — an Oklahoma City native who attended Oklahoma Christian School and OU — has a connection with Jones that few do. Their grandmothers lived just three blocks away from each other and Griffin described them as best friends.

"Our familial relationship goes back generations. My father grew up with Julius’ parents. Our grandmothers were best friends," Griffin wrote. "The Jones family has always had strong values and deep commitments to the community."

Griffin’s father, Tommy, coached Jones and his older brother in both football and basketball at John Marshall High School in Oklahoma City, and knew them for years before they were his players.

“It was always, ‘Yes, sir, or no, sir,’ and even when he was going against a kid who was 40 pounds heavier, taller and more experienced, it never deterred him from trying to give his best,” Tommy told The Oklahoman. “You don’t always have to have the talent, but if you have the heart and determination then things will go right, and that’s how he always played. He was very determined, and what helped a lot was that he was highly intelligent.”

When Jones played at John Marshall, Blake and brother Taylor, who also played at OU, would often tag along to summer practices or holiday tournaments with Tommy. During that time, they both formed strong connections with many of his players, including Jones.

“Blake and Taylor interacted with a lot of the kids I coached, including Julius,” Tommy said. “They kind of treated them like they were little brothers, and they always had someone looking out for them.”

While Young and Westbrook don’t have the same ties to Jones that Griffin does, they both wrote letters pleading for Stitt to commute his sentence. Young, the Atlanta Hawks star who grew up in Norman and starred at Norman North High School and OU, wrote in his letter that Jones' sentence was the result of a poor legal team that didn't do him justice amid inconsistencies with Jones' co-defendant.

"I and so many other people have been called to raise concerns regarding Julius Jones’ case because of the many obvious ways in which the legal system failed him. Julius’ co-defendant, who testified against him, changed his story no fewer than six times when interviewed by the police," Young wrote in his letter. "However, Julius’s attorneys, who lacked death penalty experience and were woefully unprepared, failed to cross-examine the co-defendant regarding his inconsistencies."

Westbrook played for the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2008 to 2019 and now plays for the Houston Rockets. Like Young and Griffin, Westbrook wrote he thought Jones' legal team played a role in mishandling his case, and he also cited reported racial bias from the jury.

"I am also troubled by the issues of racial bias in Julius’ case," Westbrook wrote. "To hear that a juror allegedly used the N-word when referring to Julius during trial, yet remained on the jury, is deeply disturbing to me."

Griffin, Westbrook and Young aren’t the only people to support Jones’ clemency. Oklahoma City rapper Jabee has also been vocal on Twitter supporting Jones, and a petition on has over 4 million signatures as of Thursday afternoon with a goal of 4.5 million.

‘Everybody wants this to be rectified as quickly as possible, and if it could be done with those guys stepping up and doing what they did,” Tommy said. “When you put your name on something, you have to totally believe it. So I think these guys truly believe and they’re doing what they can to help Julius.”

“They just want justice for him, and that’s what we’d want for anybody."

Vic Reynolds

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