(CNN) — Julius Jones, an Oklahoma man sentenced to death for a murder he claims he did not commit, will plead his case before the State Board of Pardons and Paroles at a clemency hearing on Monday, less than three weeks before he is executed.
This Monday’s hearing is a matter of life and death for Julius Jones, whose execution is scheduled for November 18 for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, whose sister and two young daughters were present when he was shot at the entrance to the his parents’ house. But Jones, his attorneys and advocates, including high-profile celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, insist he is innocent.
For nearly two decades, Jones, who is black, has been on death row for a crime he did not commit, says his clemency petition, due to “fundamental flaws in the system charged with deciding” his guilt, including defense attorneys. ineffective and inexperienced, racial prejudice among his jury and alleged misconduct by the prosecutor.
But Paul Howell’s family and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office have refuted Jones’ claims of innocence and believe that he is guilty of Howell’s murder.
Millions have voiced their support for Jones
Jones’ case has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, in part because of the ABC documentary series “The Last Defense,” which featured her case in 2018. Support goes beyond her family and celebrities: more than 6 , 4 million people have signed a petition on Change.org asking Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, to avoid his execution.
“It means a lot to me,” Jones’ younger sister Antoinette Jones told CNN in an interview. “It means that we are no longer alone. It means that we can breathe a little easier, knowing that other people are willing to fight alongside us.”
“I appreciate that we have the help now,” he said, “because we didn’t have it 22 years ago.”
Cece Jones-Davis, director of the Justice for Julius campaign, which aims to raise awareness of Jones’s case and lobby for clemency, echoed these statements. Before “The Last Defense,” he said that not many people were aware of the Jones case. But she believes the broad support today has made a difference.
“I don’t know where we would be,” he said. “I think it has meant the absolute world, that people have come together and that many fans are fighting for Julius.”
Jones’s supporters are hopeful. Monday’s hearing will take place before the same parole board that recommended in September that Jones’s sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole. But a week later, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set an execution date, prompting the clemency hearing.
Ultimately, the decision on clemency rests with the governor, who said in a letter to the parole board last month that he would not make a decision based on his recommendation that Jones’s sentence be commuted, saying instead a clemency hearing would be the “appropriate place” for your case to be considered.
“I do not accept the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Julius Jones’ sentence,” Stitt wrote, “because a clemency hearing, not a commutation hearing, is the appropriate place for our state to consider the cases of the death row”.
Supporting Jones is ‘extremely harsh’, says victim’s daughter
However, the surge in sympathy for Jones has been painful for Howell’s family, who, along with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, have noted that Jones’ sentence has been repeatedly upheld on appeal. Both have refuted the evidence presented by Jones and his attorneys, and the former attorney general referred to it as “disinformation.”
In a statement to CNN, Howell’s daughter Rachel called the narrative about Jones’ case “completely false,” saying that Jones, his family and the defense team “want people to believe that Julius Jones is completely innocent. , despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against him. “
“In general, this has been extremely hard on our family,” he said, “as we continue to be victims of Julius Jones when we have done absolutely nothing wrong.”
“We hope at the clemency hearing on Monday that the Board of Pardons and Paroles will see all sides of this case and make a fair and impartial decision,” he said.
Julius Jones was arrested at age 19
Howell was killed in a carjacking on the night of July 28, 1999. At around 9:30 pm, Howell, his sister, and their daughters pulled into their parents’ driveway in their 1997 Suburban, according to documents. judicial.
Howell’s sister told her daughters to gather their belongings and was getting out of the vehicle when she heard a gunshot, court documents say.
Howell’s sister looked back, court documents say, and saw a black man who she said was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt, a black cap and a red scarf over his face. The shooter fired again as Howell’s sister and their daughters ran into the home, the documents say.
Howell died around 1:45 the next morning.
Jones, 19 at the time, was arrested three days later, on July 31, a day after authorities found the murder weapon wrapped in a red scarf inside his family’s home.
He was tried alongside a co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, according to online court records. Jordan testified against Jones, who was convicted and sentenced to death.
In his plea for clemency, Jones’ attorneys contend that his conviction was the result of numerous failures, including his “inexperienced, overworked, and under-resourced public defenders.”
Neither had handled a death penalty case before Jones, and at trial, attorneys did not present any evidence or call a single witness in Jones’s defense during the stage of his trial where he was found guilty, the petition says. .
As a result, the evidence that his team says would have exonerated Jones was never presented to the jury. For example, Jones’s family says, he was at home with them the night of the murder, according to the document.
The jury was also not shown a photo of Jones, taken days before Howell’s murder, which the petition would have shown did not match the shooter’s description. Several jurors have come forward and indicated that this evidence could have changed the outcome of the case.
There is also the issue of alleged racial prejudice. According to the petition, a juror later said that he heard another juror refer to Jones with a derogatory term. Additionally, when Jones was arrested, a police officer also called him a derogatory term, the petition alleges.
Jones’s lawyers, instead, point to his co-defendant, Jordan. The petition cites several people who say that Jordan has admitted that he was the one who actually killed Howell. One of those people says that Jordan told him that he had hidden the murder weapon and the handkerchief inside Jones’s home. The petition says Jordan spent the night at the home the day after the murder.
Jordan was released from prison in 2014, according to Jones’ petition for clemency.
CNN was unable to reach Jordan for comment, and an attorney who allegedly represented him did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend. On a statement to ABC News in September, a lawyer for Jordan, Billy Bock, said: “Chris Jordan maintains his position that his role in Paul Howell’s death was that of Julius Jones’ accomplice. Jordan testified truthfully before the jury at Mr. Jones’s trial and denies having “confessed” [el crimen]”.
Jones ‘clemency petition also calls into question the use of confidential informants by prosecutors in his case and alleges that prosecutors misled the jury by not disclosing the deals they had offered to prosecutors’ witnesses, including Jordan. The Attorney General’s Office denies this, saying the jury was aware of those benefits and that they did not affect his trial.
‘Jones had his day in court’
Rachel Howell and her family, however, fully believe that Jones is guilty of the murder of Paul Howell.
The family decided to start talking this year because the truth was “being buried and we needed to have a voice for our loved one,” he said, so the family created their own website, Justice for Paul Howell.
“The fact is, Julius Jones murdered Paul Howell in cold blood in front of his sister and daughters,” then-Attorney General Mike Hunter said last year when he released information in an effort to refute what his office characterized as “falsehoods.” about the case. .
For example, regarding Jones’ claims that he had an alibi, the attorney general’s office said the alibi was thoroughly investigated and found not credible, adding that the claim was explored in a court-ordered evidentiary hearing. of Oklahoma Criminal Appeals.
Jones himself was inconsistent about where he was the night of the murder, the attorney general’s office said, adding that two of Jones’s trial attorneys testified that he told them his family was wrong and that he was not home when Howell was killed.
The office also pointed to DNA tests carried out at the request of the defense on the red handkerchief. The results, the office said in a document published in July 2020, indicated that the main component of the DNA profile matched Jones and excluded Jordan. (Jones’ team has said in response that DNA test results were limited and that Jordan’s DNA could not be excluded.)
Similarly, the office refutes claims of racial bias, noting that the juror who claimed to have heard the use of a derogatory word did not specifically raise the issue during Jones’ trial.
She had drawn the court’s attention to another comment made by a juror, but according to the attorney general’s office, an appeal found it unlikely that the juror did not mention the racial slur when she reported the other comment.
Jones and his supporters, however, have also repudiated these arguments.
“Jones had his day in court,” Hunter said. “We have heard a lot recently from those advocating for their release. I am here today to support the Howell family’s call for justice. They are the victims in this case, and the pain of their loss is rekindled with every wrong public appeal on behalf of. Jones “.
Regardless of what happens on Monday, Antoinette Jones told CNN that she keeps Howell’s family in her thoughts. While he is hopeful that the parole board will recommend clemency for his brother, “I am also praying for the Howell family because I know this is going to be very difficult for them,” he said. “Because they are going to have to relive this again, just like my parents are going to have to relive this again.”
“I am aware of that, because it was a senseless murder that happened to Mr. Paul Howell,” said Antoinette Jones. “We never forget it.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism