Will Julius Jones move closer to getting off death row?
A death row inmate who says he was framed for murder has formally asked the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to consider new information supporting his claim.
The parole board is expected to hear Julius Jones' highly publicized commutation request Monday morning at a meeting in Oklahoma City accessible to the public only via Zoom.
His attorneys Friday afternoon sent the board a sworn statement from an Arkansas inmate that another man confessed to the killing. Opponents of the commutation request complained afterward it would be unfair to the victim's family to consider the Feb. 12 statement.
"Mr. Jones and his lawyers have apparently sat on this information for over a year," Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater wrote. "This act of gamesmanship is unmistakably calculated to deprive the State of Oklahoma of any opportunity to investigate or respond to this allegedly new evidence."
The vote comes as the nation continues to confront longstanding issues of racism in the criminal justice system in the wake of the death of a Black man in police custody in Minnesota last year. Supporters of Jones, who is Black, have sought to characterize his conviction for the fatal shooting of a "white and prominent businessman" as another example of the problem.
His case is "riddled with odious racial discrimination," supporters complain on the website Justice for Julius. Prosecutors, however, said Jones' complaints of racial bias have already been rejected by courts.
Jones, 40, is facing execution for the 1999 fatal shooting of the Edmond insurance executive during a carjacking. Jurors chose the death penalty as punishment at a 2002 trial.
The victim, Paul Howell, was gunned down in his parents' driveway in Edmond after a back-to-school shopping trip with his daughters. Stolen was his 1997 Suburban.
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Millions signed a petition in his support after ABC in 2018 aired the documentary series, "The Last Defense," about his innocence claim. His supporters include celebrity Kim Kardashian, former University of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and former Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.
Kardashian visited Jones last year at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Mayfield, now a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, had Jones' name on the back of his helmet last season.
Prater contends the public has been misled about the case by a "dissemination of half-truths and, frequently, outright lies."
Jones was 19 at the time of his arrest.
The vote Monday is only the first stage of the commutation process. The board must decide if Jones will get a fuller review of his request at a later meeting. Gov. Kevin Stitt will make the final decision if the board votes in his favor the second time.
He may not be able to apply again for commutation for three years if the board rejects his request Monday, although there are exceptions.
Jones was directly implicated at trial in the fatal shooting by his friend, Christopher Jordan.
Under a plea agreement, Jordan pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit a robbery for his role and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In the sworn statement sent to the parole board Friday, a convicted robber claims Jordan "spilled his guts" about the crime in 2010 while the two were in prison together in Arkansas.
"Jordan said to me 'my co-defendant is on death row behind a murder I committed,'" the Arkansas convict, Roderick Wesley, said in the Feb. 12 statement. "He was acting like he was sorry for what he had done but he said that he was not going to jump out there and give himself up to the wolves."
Wesley also said he contacted an attorney for Jones after seeing "The Last Defense" in prison in 2020.
"Mr. Wesley is the third person to swear under oath that Christopher Jordan, the co-defendant in Mr. Jones' case, confessed to killing Paul Howell," his attorneys wrote.
In objection to consideration of the statement, Attorney General Mike Hunter's top assistant wrote Jones "could have filed a post-conviction application with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals if he believed he had credible new evidence."
"That Mr. Jones chose to air his 'new evidence' in the media, rather than in a court of law, reflects poorly on his assessment of the reliability of that evidence," wrote Dawn Cash, first assistant attorney general.
"The State suspects that Mr. Wesley is no more credible than the other two individuals to whom Christopher Jordan allegedly confessed. What is undeniable, however, is that Mr. Jones' DNA was found on the bandana worn by the murderer, which was wrapped around the murder weapon and found in Mr. Jones' home. That fact, and the abundant other evidence ... leaves no doubt as to Mr. Jones' guilt."