EXPLAINER: How the execution of Julius Jones was stopped


By Sean Murphy, The Associated Press November 18, 2021.

FILE – This photo provided by Oklahoma Corrections on February 5, 2018, shows Julius Jones. Jones’ fate lies with Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. Unless Stitt grants him clemency, Jones will be executed by lethal injection on Thursday, November 18, 2021. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Julius Jones’ execution was halted on Thursday, less than four hours before he was given a lethal injection following outcry over doubts about the evidence at his murder trial nearly 20 years old.

Time was running out for Jones as Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt pondered whether to spare his life. Shortly after noon on Thursday, the Republican governor announced that he had granted clemency to Jones. Instead of allowing the execution, Stitt said he was commuting Jones’ sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jones, now 41, was convicted and sentenced to death for the shooting death in 1999 of Paul Howell, a businessman from an affluent Oklahoma City suburb. Jones has always maintained his innocence.

The case has gained more and more attention since it was featured in “The Last Defense,”? a three-part documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018 and described some of her defense team’s allegations. Since then, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, who visited Jones in prison, and athletes with ties to Oklahoma, including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life. This week, European Union Ambassador to the United States Stavros Lambrinidis sent a letter to Stitt urging him to grant Jones clemency.

Here are some of the main arguments made by Jones ‘lawyers, the prosecutors’ response, and how the case got here.

EYE WITNESS DESCRIPTION OF SHOOTER

Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, who was an eyewitness to her brother’s murder, testified in court that the shooter wore a beanie that dropped “about half an inch to an inch” above his shoulders. ears, and the hair sticking out. on both sides. Jones ‘attorneys suggest this was a better description of Jones’ co-defendant who testified against him, Christopher Jordan, who had corn braids at the time, and that the jury never saw a photo of Jones taken a week before the murder. who showed him with short, cropped hair. Jones has long said that he was tricked by Jordan and that Jordan was the real killer.

But prosecutors say Tobey said she has never seen braids and her testimony referred to the amount of hair visible between the top of the ear and the beanie, not the length of the hair. Prosecutors also note that a federal district court addressed the issue, noting that “the length of (Jones’) hair compared to Mr. Jordan’s is not convincing evidence of true innocence.”

ALIBI DE JONES

Jones and his family argued that he was home with them the night of Howell’s murder, dining and playing games with his siblings, and that the jury never presented this information at trial.

Prosecutors say this is a “blatant lie” and Jones’ trial attorney never called the family to the witness stand because Jones repeatedly told his attorneys that he was not at home the night of the murder. They also note that three people saw Jones with Howell’s stolen Suburban shortly after the murder. Even Jones’ general counsel, David McKenzie, wrote in an affidavit that he “personally concluded that the alibi defense was false.”

TESTIMONY OF THE PRISON

Jones’ lawyers say the jury also never heard from multiple people who testified that Jordan admitted to killing Howell and setting up Jones. Prosecutors say the individuals, who all have long criminal records, were not credible, did not know any details of the murder and that their testimonies were not corroborated.

RACIAL PREJUDICE

A juror in Jones ‘trial wrote in an affidavit after Jones’ conviction that during the trial another juror engaged in premature deliberation and used a racial epithet while saying they should take Jones behind prison and shoot him. Prosecutors argue that when the trial judge questioned her about this allegation the day after the alleged incident, she never mentioned the racial epithet. And the judge’s bailiff signed an affidavit saying the juror never reported this, as she said.

WHAT DRIVEN TO MERCY?

Jones’ attorneys filed a last-minute request Thursday morning as they waited for a word from Stitt.

Prior to that, the Oklahoma Pardons and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend to the governor that Jones’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole, each time citing doubts about evidence of the case.

Stitt named two of the three members who voted to recommend leniency: Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle. The third member, Larry Morris, was appointed by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

“Personally, I believe there should be no doubt in death penalty cases. And to put it simply, I have doubts about this matter ”? ? Luck said the day of Jones’ clemency hearing.

Stitt has said little publicly about his decision, so his reasoning is unclear.

Instead of following the full parole board recommendation, he ruled that Jones should not be given the opportunity to apply for parole and be released from jail.

“After prayerfully considering and reviewing the documents presented by all parties to this case, I have decided to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole”? ? Stitt said in a statement Thursday.