A person on loss of life row in Oklahoma could possibly be one step nearer to being launched from jail after the state’s pardon and parole board really useful this week that his sentence be commuted, sending the case to the governor’s desk.
The person, Julius Jones, was convicted of first-degree homicide and sentenced to loss of life in 2002. He was accused of killing Paul Howell, who was in a automobile within the driveway of his mother and father’ house when he was carjacked and fatally shot in 1999.
Mr. Jones, 41, a former highschool basketball participant from Oklahoma Metropolis, was 19 on the time of the killing, which he says he didn’t commit. Mr. Howell, a businessman from the suburb of Edmond, was 45.
The parole board’s advice — to commute Mr. Jones’s loss of life sentence to life in jail, with the opportunity of parole — is a major step in a case that has captured consideration throughout the US, prompting public demonstrations, movie star advocacy and debates over capital punishment in a state the place officers needed to briefly halt executions after a string of botched procedures.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, may nonetheless deny the parole board’s advice to commute Mr. Jones’s sentence. If he approves it, Mr. Jones would develop into eligible for parole.
“I’m grateful to the pardon and parole board for seeing the human in my brother Julius Darius Jones,” his sister, Antoinette Jones, mentioned at a rally after the board introduced its resolution on Monday.
Mr. Jones, a Black man who has now spent about half of his life in jail, has lengthy maintained his innocence. “I didn’t kill Mr. Howell,” he wrote in a letter to the parole board in April, after he had exhausted his appeals. “I didn’t take part in any approach in his homicide; and the primary time I noticed him was on tv when his loss of life was reported.”
However kin of Mr. Howell, a white man whose sister and two daughters witnessed his killing, have pushed again towards these claims and mentioned that the persevering with efforts to exonerate Mr. Jones have induced them ache.
“We’re devastated by the choice reached at the moment by the pardon and parole board,” his brother Brian Howell mentioned at a information convention on Monday. “Our household continues to be victimized by Julius Jones and his lies.”
Mr. Jones and his supporters have argued that his protection attorneys failed him throughout his trial — for example, by neglecting to query members of the family who’ve mentioned that he was having dinner with them on the time of Mr. Howell’s killing — and that prosecutors relied an excessive amount of on the testimony of Christopher Jordan, a co-defendant who mentioned that he had seen Mr. Jones commit the crime.
Mr. Jordan, who was additionally convicted of murdering Mr. Howell however served a diminished sentence and was launched in 2014, couldn’t be reached for remark this week. Individuals who have been incarcerated alongside Mr. Jordan have mentioned that he confessed to framing Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones’s supporters have additionally argued that racism performed a job in his trial and sentencing. African Individuals make up a disproportionate variety of loss of life row prisoners in Oklahoma and in the US, and analysis has proven that individuals convicted of homicide are more likely to be executed if the one that was killed was white.
Mr. Howell’s household and David Prater, the district lawyer for Oklahoma County, who opposes the commutation of Mr. Jones’s sentence, have argued that Mr. Jones is responsible, citing Mr. Howell’s kin who witnessed the homicide and a DNA check that linked Mr. Jones to a purple bandanna that was discovered wrapped across the homicide weapon.
The police discovered the gun and the bandanna in Mr. Jones’s household’s house. Mr. Jones’s attorneys have mentioned that Mr. Jordan, who visited the house after the killing, may have planted the weapon there.
In recent times, Mr. Jones’s case has been a spotlight of a number of high-profile media tasks — together with a 2018 documentary collection produced by Viola Davis, a podcast episode final 12 months that includes Kim Kardashian West and a latest episode of The Late Late Present with James Corden — in addition to a number of public demonstrations.
That spotlight has develop into a degree of competition for members of Mr. Howell’s household, who’ve mentioned that their grief has been ignored.
At a information convention after the vote on Monday, Mr. Prater mentioned that the pardon and parole board members have been biased towards the loss of life penalty or had hyperlinks to campaigns in assist of Mr. Jones, together with one member who recused himself from the panel shortly earlier than the vote.
“Justice has been subverted by movie star, cash and politics,” Mr. Prater added.
Brian Howell mentioned that Mr. Jones had advocates outdoors Oklahoma, pointing to a nonprofit group in Los Angeles that has supported the marketing campaign to free him. “We don’t have a Signify Justice, which is a California 510c(3), on our facet,” he mentioned. “However we do have the reality.”
Daniel Forkkio, the chief govt of Signify Justice, mentioned in an emailed assertion that the group had helped to amplify the work of the Jones household and others who had petitioned state officers on behalf of Mr. Jones.
“The Oklahoma County district lawyer’s workplace has waged a really intense and public marketing campaign to execute Julius Jones for over 20 years, funded by taxpayers,” he added, “together with many taxpayers who don’t consider Julius acquired a good trial and who suppose the state is looking for to execute an harmless man.”
Cece Jones-Davis, who directs an Oklahoma-based marketing campaign referred to as Justice for Julius Jones, mentioned that many individuals from Mr. Jones’s neighborhood had been combating his execution, and that the information media consideration had elevated these efforts. On Monday, she was outdoors the parole board listening to in Oklahoma Metropolis with a crowd of demonstrators, awaiting the end result.
“When the vote got here by, it was very surreal,” she mentioned. “I had a ringing in my ears. I couldn’t even consider what was taking place.”
It was telling, she added, that a lot outdoors consideration was wanted to push the case onto the governor’s desk.
“It truly is a disgrace to me that it has taken hundreds of thousands of individuals, actually, to avoid wasting one Black man’s life in America,” she mentioned. “It’s a disgrace to me that a complete complete state can bury a person alive for 22 years, lock the door and throw away the important thing whereas he waits to be executed.”
Ms. Jones-Davis mentioned that the struggle towards his execution was not over, for the reason that board’s advice had not been authorized by the governor. Mr. Stitt has no time restrict to decide on Mr. Jones’s case.
“The governor takes his function on this course of severely and can fastidiously think about the pardon and parole board’s advice as he does in all circumstances,” a spokesman for the governor mentioned in an e mail. “We won’t have any additional remark till the governor has decided.”
Susan Beachy contributed analysis.