A controversial death penalty case in Oklahoma is prompting fiery debate over criminal justice reform and systemic racism.
On one side, a chorus of law enforcement prosecutors and victim advocates say 39-year-old Julius Jones ruthlessly murdered a prominent Oklahoma City businessman in 2002 during an attempted carjacking with another man.
They point to the testing of DNA evidence in the case that ties Jones to the murder, the testimony of the second suspect, and the fact that he has now exhausted all of his appeals in the case and can no longer assert his innocence in court.
Supporters of Jones counter that he was framed by the co-defendant, that alibi witnesses weren’t called upon to testify, and that the jury was tainted by racism, among other breakdowns in his trial. Since Jones is now out of opportunities to appeal his case in court, his supporters are calling upon Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to grant Jones clemency or commute his death sentence, either of which would save him from execution.
Attention to the Jones cases increased following the killing of George Floyd, when Black Lives Matter protesters in Oklahoma and beyond pointed to the case as yet another example of endemic racism in America’s criminal justice system. 20/20’s airing of a two-hour episode chronicling Jones’ case also substantially increased the public profile of the case.
The attention around the case has become so frenzied that celebrity Kim Kardashian West -- who has increasingly used her star power to draw attention to wrongful convictions in the United States -- has advocated for Jones on social media and encouraged her large following to write the parole board. Professional athletes have also offered their support to Jones including three NBA stars and a former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma who is now the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, Baker Mayfield.
“Based on my personal review, the errors and shortcomings in Julius’ trial have been well-documented and are too numerous to be listed in this letter,” Mayfield wrote in a passionate appeal to Stitt. “The inconsistent (and unchallenged) testimony of Julius’ co-defendant, the obviously inexperienced and unmotivated defense team, and the eyewitness description of a shooter that clearly did not match Julius are by themselves enough to cast doubt on his guilt.”
A co-defendant in the case, who some believe is the real killer, testified that Jones was the one who pulled the trigger.
The process of requesting clemency for Jones from Stitt is already underway, but the mounting public pressure on Governor Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board means that commutation is a real possibility - if only a remote one.
Listen to the episode of Wrongful Conviction about Jones’ case here
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