Julius Jones has spent nearly 20 years on death row for a crime he says he did not commit. As the date of his execution approached, Jones’s case became a focal point for the debate about the death penalty and racial justice, with celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Baker Mayfield, and others advocating for clemency.
A mere 4 hours before his scheduled execution, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. So, what exactly are the facts of the case, what did each side argue, and why was the sentence commuted?
In 1999 Paul Howell pulled into his driveway after taking his two daughters to get school supplies and ice cream. Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, was in the passenger seat. A man with a stocking cap and a red bandana on his face approached the vehicle and shot Paul Howell. Megan Tobey grabbed both of Paul’s daughters and ran inside the home. The assailant stole Paul Howell’s car and drove away. A few days later police searched Julius Jones' home and found the gun used to kill Paul Howell in a crawl space above Julius’s bedroom. In addition to the gun, they found a red bandana that matched the description provided by the witnesses at the scene.
Megan Tobey, the only adult witness of the murder of Paul Howell, stated in court:
It is undisputed that Julius Jones did not have long hair at the time of the incident. Instead, Jones had a very short fade haircut. This means that if we interpret this quote to mean the hair was an inch long, then he does not fit the description of the man that killed Paul Howell.
Jones’ defense attorney was a public defender that had never done a capital case before. Additionally, his co-counsel was a law student that had not yet graduated or passed the bar.
Jones has maintained that he was home with his family the night of the murder and his parents and siblings have all maintained this is the truth. The jury was _never _given this information because Julius’s defense attorney did not believe it was the truth, and therefore did not present it at trial.
Many inmates claim that Christopher Jordan, the man convicted of aiding Jones in the murder of Paul Howard, confessed to the murder. However, the jury never heard testimony from these individuals as they were deemed by the Court to be unreliable.
While Jones’ lack of testimony has been regularly discussed, it is not uncommon for a Defendant to choose not to testify. Jones did have a significant criminal history, and if he chose to testify, the prosecutor’s would have been able to talk about this history in front of the jury, including the 2 armed carjackings Julius had committed in the parking lot of a Hideaway Pizza only one week before the murder. While it may have helped Jones’ case to tell his story on the stand, it may have also led to information being revealed that would have seriously hurt his case.
There was only 1 black juror on Julius’s case. Additionally, one juror wrote to the judge after the case to report that one of the other jurors had already decided to convict before the case was completed and used a racial slur to refer to Jones. The judge did bring the juror in to question them, but did not overturn the decision.
Many believe it was Christopher Jordan who killed Paul Howell. Jordan has a history of armed robberies, and pleaded no contest to a 2004 armed robbery charge. This armed robbery resulted in the murder of bank teller Amber Rogers. Christopher Jordan was the getaway driver and his cousin, Tony Jordan, was the shooter.
Jones' criminal history is often brought up when his case is discussed. While Jones did have a fairly extensive criminal history, that is not something that can be considered at trial. This means that any past convictions _would not _have been presented to the jury.
One of the largest pieces of evidence in the trial against Jones was the gun. Police searched Jones’ home and found the gun that killed Paul Howell in the crawl space above Jones’ room. However, Jones contends that Christopher Jordan stayed the night at his house the night after the murder of Paul Howell. Jones also says that Christopher Jordan slept in his room that night, while he slept on the couch. Additionally, while it is unverifiable, it is believed that Christopher Jordan told the police to search the crawl space above Julius’s room. There has been no evidence either proving or disproving that claim.
The red bandana found in the crawl space above Julius’s room was DNA tested approximately 18 years after the incident in an effort to appeal Julius’s case. However, DNA results came back which showed Jones’ DNA was a match for a spot on the bandana. However, it is important to note that this bandana was found in Julius’s home, so even if he had not worn the bandana, it could have his DNA on it. Additionally, there were multiple DNA profiles found on the bandana.
Christopher Jordan was deemed to be Jones’ accomplice, and testified against Jones in the trial against him. However, Christopher Jordan did this in exchange for a plea deal which gave him a 30 year sentence for the murder, and he only served 15 years before eventually being released.
After Jones was convicted, he filed multiple appeals seeking post-conviction relief.
In 2002 Jones filed an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel. (Oklahoma Case D-2002-534) A hearing was held, and the appellate court found that there was not ineffective assistance of counsel. Jones filed a petition for rehearing in this case, and the court allowed the issue to be re-heard. This means the court hears the arguments a second time and reconsiders their previous decision, but the court maintained the same position.
Jones filed additional motions for post conviction relief in 2002 and 2017 on three separate occasions. These motions were also denied.
On November 18, 2021 a mere 4 hours before his execution was set to occur, Governor Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones' sentence. Jones went before the pardon and parole board which voted 3-1 to commute Jones’ sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Governor Stitt followed the pardon and parole boards recommendation by commuting Jones’ sentence to life, however, he deviated from their recommendation by making it life without the possibility of parole.
Julius Jones’ case has many facts that both corroborate and contradict his version of events. Despite this, Jones has never wavered in proclaiming his innocence. This led to the public outcry regarding his sentence, and the eventual commutation of his sentence a mere 4 hours before his execution.
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