Julius Jones on death row: Oklahoma civil rights and faith leaders submit letters supporting clemency citing grave doubts and racial bias
Oklahoma City, OK -- Amid growing public concern about the fairness and reliability of the conviction and death sentence of Julius Jones, numerous letters of support from bipartisan and prominent civil rights leaders, faith leaders, experts on criminal justice policy and others accompanied Mr. Jones’ application for clemency, which was filed today.
The letters, addressed to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Oklahoma and Governor Kevin Stitt, echoed concerns raised in Mr. Jones’ clemency filing, including serious doubts about Mr. Jones’ guilt, never-considered evidence of racial bias, evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, and poor legal representation, among other issues.
The Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumbert, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Witness to Innocence and prominent national Evangelical leaders submitted letters urging a grant of executive clemency in Mr. Jones’ troubling case. Other prominent individuals and organizations have previously expressed concern about Mr. Jones’ case including the Oklahoma NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, Oklahoma Representative George Young, and others.
Mr. Jones’ clemency petition can be accessed here.
Many of the letters discussed disturbing evidence that racial bias tainted Mr. 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 Mr. Jones accused of killing a white male victim in Oklahoma at the time 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 powerful letter from its Executive Director, Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first person exonerated by DNA from death row in the United States.
WTI’s letter 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 One Commissioner Carrie Blumbert also highlights concern about “inconsistent” evidence in the case.
Commissioner Blumbert writes: “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, in its letter, recalled Governor Kevin Stitt’s call for accountability as necessary for positive change in Oklahoma.
That letter states: “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.”
Mr. Jones’ case has been publicly supported by multiple organizations and individuals. State Representative George Young published an opinion editorial in 2018 in Tulsa World entitled 'Grave doubts raised about the fairness and reliability of Julius Jones’ death sentence.'
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.”
Other groups and individuals have spoken out as well. Mr. Jones’ clemency petition is under review by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board, which will now determine whether his application for clemency will be permitted to advance and additional materials submitted.
For additional background on Julius Jones’ case, please go to: JusticeForJulius.com