Julius Jones' supporters deliver petition signatures to Oklahoma pardon and parole board urging commutation
Supporters of death row inmate Julius Jones marched to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Thursday, delivering boxes filled with more than 6 million signatures of people who signed a Change.org petition asking that Jones' be granted clemency or that his sentence be commuted.
Jones, 40, who is Black, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 2002 for the 1999 killing of Paul Howell, a white Edmond businessman.
Jones applied to the Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board for clemency in 2019. He has maintained his innocence and a groundswell of support for him has emerged over the last several years, both in Oklahoma and nationwide.
Faith leaders, stars in the entertainment arena and high profile athletes have spoken out or sent letters urging state leaders to grant him clemency.
Thursday, the Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, founder of the Justice for Julius Coalition, said she was encouraged by the numerous people who signed the petition urging the pardon and parole board to recommend to Gov. Kevin Stitt that Jones' sentence be commuted. She said she was also heartened by the enthusiastic crowd that showed up to help deliver the petition.
Jones-Davis and other religious leaders who spoke at the prayer rally said the pardon and parole board is expected to consider Jones' request for commutation in March and they would like to see his request moved from that phase on to the next phase in the commutation process.
"It is a beautiful day. It is part of a dream being realized in a very long and arduous journey to bring Julius Jones home to his family. Knowing that the pardon and parole board will review his application beginning March 8 and start a process of determining whether he lives or dies, we are hopeful, we are cautiously optimistic," she said.
"But today is about our faith and it's about our faith in action as well. So it's a wonderful day and we're really grateful for all of the support."
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One of the highlights of the prayer gathering occurred when Jones' friend Jimmy Lawson played a taped message from Jones in which the inmate said he was grateful for those who have supported him.
"God has not forgotten me," he said.
The Rev. John Reed, longtime senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, said he had been told by an elected leader that his efforts on Jones' behalf were in vain but he wouldn't stop fighting for the inmate's cause.
"The fact is, we all know there is racial injustice in our justice system. Here we are after 20 years, we are still seeking justice for this young man," he said. "I want to say to all: Hang in there, keep struggling. Keep on fighting."
The crowd made the 10-minute walk from church to the parole board office, singing and holding signs bearing messages of support for Jones.They were met at the door of the board's office by Tom Bates, the board's executive director, and the boxes of signatures were taken inside.
Jones' mother Madeline Davis-Jones thanked the crowd for their support as they gathered outside the office.
"You are my family. ... All I can say is God is good and I thank God for each and every one of you," she said.
Several people in the racially diverse crowd, including Mandy Duran, said they joined efforts to support Jones after learning about his case from friends.
"I came out here to report my roommate and to support Julius. They've created a friendship throughout this whole process and I just wanted to help advocate and support his family and just kind of draw more people in awareness about what's going on, how corrupt the system is right now," Duran said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mike Hunter has previously spoken out on Jones' case.
As Reed said at Thursday's prayer rally, he and others advocating on Jones' behalf believe his trial was filled with errors and racial bias.
However, Hunter said the facts of the case have been obscured by misinformation. He released a summary of the trial transcript in July 2020, saying that it included compelling "overwhelming evidence" of Jones' guilt.