Attorneys file clemency petition on behalf of Julius Jones with letters of support
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Published: 20-Oct-2019

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Members of the legal team for Julius Jones, on Oklahoma’s death row, filed a petition of clemency for him with the state Pardon and Parole Board this past week.
Representing Jones are Dale Baich and co-counsel, Amanda Bass, both federal public defenders from Arizona. They have battled tirelessly to save the life of Jones, who was accused, tried and convicted for the July 1999 murder of Edmond insurance executive Paul Scott Howell.
Along with the petition, they sent numerous letters of support from civil rights leaders, faith leaders, experts on criminal justice policy and others.

The letters, addressed to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Oklahoma and Governor Kevin Stitt, raised concerns noted in Jones’ clemency filing, including never-considered evidence of racial bias, evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, and poor legal representation, among other issues, creating serious doubts about Jones’ guilt.
The Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumbert, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Witness to Innocence and national Evangelical leaders all submitted letters urging a grant of executive clemency for Jones.
Other individuals and organizations who have previously expressed concern about Jones’ case include the Oklahoma NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, and Oklahoma Representative George Young.

The Julius Jones’ clemency petition can be accessed here: (https://drive.google.com/file/d/16DBAA3LpKrh-cloQ_G95ObhScoyVA9Bl/view).

The petition states that Jones was sentenced to death by a jury that had only one African-American juror, after prosecutors struck other potential jurors of color while allowing similarly-situated white jurors to stay on the jury. The petition cites racial slurs were used by both arresting officers and jury members.

According to the press release issued by Baich’s legal team, many of the letters discussed evidence that racial bias tainted Jones’ case. As the letter from Evangelical leaders states, 
“From the start, [Mr. Jones’] case was riddled with racial discrimination. Upon his arrest, according to Julius, a police officer used the “n word”, and the State was successful in removing all prospective black jurors except one….. At least one juror harbored racial prejudice that influenced his vote to convict and sentence Julius to death. One juror reported that a fellow juror commented that the trial was a waste of time, and that “they should just take that n***** out and shoot him behind the jail.” The juror who heard the comment raised concerns with the trial judge who did nothing to address the issue. The juror was allowed to remain on the jury, and Julius was sentenced to death…[W]e are appalled that no action was taken to remove this juror. Racial bias has absolutely no place in our justice system.”
Some of the letters cited a 2017 study called “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides, 1990-2012,”  which found that a Black defendant like Jones accused of killing a white male victim in Oklahoma when his trial and sentencing occurred was nearly three times more likely to receive a death sentence than if his victim were a non-white male. 

Witness to Innocence (WTI)  submitted a letter from its Executive Director, Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first person exonerated by DNA from death row in the United States. It states: “The troubling issues in Julius’ case are frighteningly similar to those found in many of the cases of the 166 men and women who were fortunate to be exonerated before their death sentences were carried out. The vast majority of these cases, as with Julius’ case, have zero physical evidence and rely solely on witness testimony, circumstantial evidence, and faulty or fraudulent forensic evidence….Among the 166 people exonerated after a death sentence, for the 86 who are African American, implicit and overt racial bias led many jury members to ignore the doubts raised by weak witness testimony and lack of physical evidence, and sometimes even led them to be certain of the defendant’s guilt before the trial began….Racial bias was present in both the guilt-innocence and sentencing phases of Julius’ trial. I cannot say whether Julius Jones is innocent or guilty, but it is glaring that his case is fraught with the exact problems most typically associated with wrongful convictions, and present in the majority of the case of people who, like me, were nearly killed for crimes we did not commit. Clemency at this stage is the only way to ensure that an innocent man is not executed.”

The letter from Oklahoma County District One Commissioner Carrie Blumert states concern about “inconsistent” evidence in the case: “At the time of Julius’ trial, the eyewitness description of the shooter did not fit Julius. Instead, it described his co-defendant who served 15 years and is now a free man. Julius’ attorney was an overworked public defender who failed to cross-examine Christopher Jordan, (Julius’ co-defendant, on the six inconsistent statements he gave to police upon arrest. Christopher Jordan was later overheard bragging that he set-up Julius and was incentivized to testify for a shorter prison time. The evidence used to convict Julius was inconsistent and several eye-witnesses provided an alibi for Julius.”

The Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City recalled in its letter that Governor Kevin Stitt has called for accountability as necessary for positive change in Oklahoma – “In your impactful inaugural speech on January 14th, 2019, you spoke about the much-needed advent of Oklahoma’s turnaround….[Y]ou expressed that the fruition of Oklahoma’s turnaround “starts with accountability.” …. Governor Stitt, we write to you today seeking justice in Oklahoma, in the form of accountability. Due to the lack of accountability, a grave injustice continues to transpire in our state, and it has spanned two decades. A man by the name of Julius Jones has been on death row in Oklahoma, despite compelling evidence of an unreliable murder conviction and racial bias that has adversely affected his case. At the time of the crime, Julius was a 19-year-old student athlete with high aspirations at the University of Oklahoma. He was on a full academic scholarship, and had the strong support of his hard-working parents who taught him constructive ethics and values. Mr. Jones’ troubling case sadly includes instances of prosecutorial misconduct, compromised forensic evidence and disproportionate sentencing.”

In May 2017, a first time, one of a kind study of the death penalty performed by the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission was released after a year long process.
The Commission’s report states that the Oklahoma death penalty system is riddled with problems regarding eyewitness identification, recorded interrogations, weak training in interrogation best practices, jailhouse informant reliability hearings & training (data tracking, including with officers), addressing faulty forensics, and avenues to get into court with evolving science.

In the report the Commission concluded, “In light of the extensive information gathered from this year-long, in-depth study, the Commission members unanimously recommend that the current moratorium on the death penalty be extended until significant reforms have been accomplished.”

The local District Attorney announced last fall that DNA evidence on a red bandana central to the prosecution’s case had proven Jones’ guilt. The petition notes results call into question whether the bandana found in the home was even the bandana worn by the shooter. In that case, without saliva being on it, the bandana can no longer be linked to the crime.
Jones’ petition highlights problems with use of eyewitness testimony in which witnesses were incentivized to support the prosecution’s position. Jurors in the Jones case, the petition points out, were never given full details of the promises prosecutors made to Chris Jordan, co-defendant in the Jones prosecution. While more than 30 years of incarceration was Jordan’s stated prison term, he actually served half that amount.
The Commission points out that a major problem in capital cases is weak legal counsel for the defense.

According to the petition, Julius Jones was assigned a court-appointed attorney and a law student who had never tried a death penalty case, both who acknowledged they did not have the experience necessary to adequately represent him.

Also stated in the petition, during trial Jones’ defense lawyers “failed to adequately cross-examine the co-defendant, on the six different and inconsistent statements that he gave to the police after his arrest or demonstrate that he may have been the shooter and may have been testifying against Jones to avoid the death penalty.” And, “failed to present the testimony of two available witnesses who overheard  Jordan bragging about having pinned his crime on Julius to avoid the death penalty, and with the assurance that he would serve just fifteen years in prison.”

In addition, his attorneys “failed to show the jury a photograph – see this link (https://drive.google.com/file/d/16DBAA3LpKrh-cloQ_G95ObhScoyVA9Bl/view) – showing Jones’ very short, crew-cut hair at the time of the crime, proving he could not be the person who the victim’s sister described as “having half an inch of hair sticking out from underneath a stocking cap.”

Despite a promise in September 2018 that Jones’ lawyers could examine files relating to the prosecution, that commitment was not fulfilled. The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission anticipated such lack of transparency, recommending, “All Oklahoma district attorneys’ offices and the Office of the Attorney General should be required to allow open-file discovery at all stages of a capital case, including during the direct appeal, state post-conviction review, federal habeas corpus review, and any clemency proceedings.”

The Commission noted in its review, “In 1910, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) likewise recognized that race-based exclusion violates the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in practice, many jurisdictions across the nation routinely excluded — and often continue to exclude — blacks from jury service.”

Concerning the group’s final report, former Commission co-chair Governor Brad Henry said, “Many of the findings of the Commission’s year-long investigation were disturbing and led members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death.”

“The options available to Julius Jones to pursue claims related to his wrongful conviction and racism have been thwarted by the courts,” Baich told The City Sentinel. “Instead of looking at the merits of his claims, the courts repeatedly relied on procedural technicalities to avoid deciding these hard issues. We are now asking the Pardon and Parole Board to take a close and careful look at this case, and use their powers under Oklahoma law to right the numerous wrongs that the courts declined to address.”
In a 2018 letter to then-Governor Mary Fallin, The Congressional Black Caucus stated: 

“As for Mr. Jones, we ask that you take a close and careful look at his case, and use your authority to correct this wrongful conviction. Justice requires it.” The Oklahoma NAACP has called for Mr. Jones’ case files to be released by the Oklahoma City District Attorney’s office “in order to promote public trust in both the criminal justice system and in Mr. Jones’s case.”

“Under Oklahoma law, an in-custody prisoner can only ask for the sentence to be commuted,” Baich added. “This is the only relief now available in the clemency process and that is why Julius is asking for his death sentence to be commuted to time served. If he is released from prison, he can later ask for a pardon.”

Jones’ clemency petition is now under review by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board, which will determine whether his application for clemency will be permitted to advance and additional materials submitted.

“The Pardon and Parole Board can use its power and authority to look at this case, unrestrained by the procedural barriers that constrained the courts,” Baich said. “The Board can ask why the district attorney continues to refuse to make his file available to Julius’s defense team.”
For more information on Julius Jones’ case, go to justiceforjulius.com. 


Note: Direct links for many of the factual assertions in this essay can be read at the original posting for The City Sentinel newspaper, here (http://city-sentinel.com/2019/10/attorneys-file-clemency-petition-on-behalf-of-julius-jones-along-with-letters-of-support/ ). Also at that link readers can study for themselves the various letters of support for the Jones clemency petition. Patrick B. McGuigan, author of this report, signed the letter of support for Jones' petition. McGuigan is a member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP). He writes frequently on criminal justice and other legal policy issues. This report was first posted at the website of The City Sentinel newspaper, of which is publisher. 

www.City-Sentinel.com

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