After failed petition to Supreme Court, Julius Jones' lawyers to file clemency application with Oklahoma Parole Board
Julius Jones was just 19-years-old when he was accused of the July 28, 1999 murder of insurance executive Paul Scott Howell.
Despite a litany of inconsistencies and loopholes in the prosecution's case, as well as controversy surrounding his trial, Julius was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death and has spent the last 18 years behind bars as his case makes its way through the appellate system.
For the longest time, one of the major points of contention in the case was a red bandana that Howell's sister, who witnessed his murder, claimed the killer was wearing. After repeated attempts and years of petitioning, the bandana was finally sent in for DNA testing at an independent lab, and the results were damning.
After the testing was completed last October, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced that the bandana tested positive for Julius' DNA and analysis showed the probability it belonged to someone other than Jones was one in 110 million the US African American population.
"The lab results, which indicate that Julius Jones’ DNA is present on the red bandana, is an additional validation of the trial and appellate process in proving his guilt," he announced.
However, Dale Baich, an Assistant Federal Public Defender in Arizona and Supervisor of the Capital Habeas Unit, and who has been fighting on Julius' side for several years, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) that the results were not as conclusive as they were made out to be.
Baich said the results had DNA profiles from three or more males, conceding that one was from Julius but arguing that it was only a partial profile. "DNA has 23 markers and it was consistent with Julius only on seven," he argued, adding, "There is other male DNA on there as well but we're not able to determine who's DNA that is."
He also pointed to a detail that has been disregarded in the results. "What's significant is that the stain on the bandana is not saliva," he revealed. "Our theory was that the shooter yelled when he had the bandana over his face and that stain should be saliva, so now, we don't even know if that bandana that was found in Julius' attic was the same one worn by the shooter."
There was also a suggestion of racial prejudice amongst the jurors who convicted Julius, with one member reportedly stating that the trial was a "waste of time" and suggesting that they "just take the n***** out and shoot him behind the jail."
Despite the US Supreme Court having unambiguously condemned racial prejudice from playing any role in a single juror's decision to convict a defendant and sentence him to death, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) dismissed his lawyers' petition in September 2018 and ruled there was "no racial bias."
His lawyers had also filed a petition challenging the conviction directly with the US Supreme Court based on an Oklahoma race study that concluded an African American who killed a white male was three times as more likely to get the death penalty.
The court rescheduled consideration of Julius' case 25 times before eventually declining to review the challenge. Baich told MEAWW, that for the time being, there were no plans to further petition the country's highest court.
"Right now there's nothing in the US supreme court but that doesn't mean that something will come up along the way that will allow us to go back to court," he said, adding, "We are now in the process of preparing a clemency application to the parole board in Oklahoma."
No executions have been performed in Oklahoma since January 2015 after a botched attempt with the lethal injection saw a prisoner suffer an agonizing death. However, that moratorium was lifted in March 2018 and it was announced that Oklahoma would use inert gas inhalation as the primary method for death penalty executions. Lethal injection, electrocution, and firing squads would be used in that order in the scenario inert gas inhalation was unavailable.
But Baich said there was still a long way to go before Julius was assigned an execution date. "Julius had never had an execution date because his case was in court," he explained. "Now that it's out of court, the state can ask for a date, but they still don't have a protocol in place to carry out executions."
"There may also be litigation over the new protocol when it comes out, so the state has to wait another five months after that before it can even ask for an execution date," he continued.
"So, there is time. We are going to ask for clemency so his death sentence is commuted to a life sentence with time served."
Since he was imprisoned 19 years ago, Julius has been primarily kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and is bound with shackles for the hour he's allowed outside. He also gets only three five-minute showers a week and is allowed no physical contact with visitors, not even his family.
Oklahoma has executed the third largest number of convicts in the United States — after only Texas and Virginia — and has the highest number of executions per capita in the country. There are currently 47 defendants on death row in the state, with 16 having exhausted all modes of appeal.
As grim as the situation appears to be, Baich said Julius' spirit was still strong. "He's hopeful and very grateful for all the support he's receiving from across the country and around the world," he told MEAWW.