As first reported by NonDoc media, former Sooner standouts Blake Griffin and Trae Young and former OKC Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook sent letters to Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board members urging sentence commutation for Julius Jones, an Oklahoma death row inmate who has maintained his innocence for nearly 21 years, an Oklahoma public affairs firm revealed on Wednesday.
Jones is a former University of Oklahoma student who, just months before he planned to walk on to the Sooners’ men’s basketball team in 1999, became the number one suspect in the killing of an Edmond businessman. Jones was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death in 2002.
“My father, Tommy Griffin, coached Julius when he played basketball at John Marshall High School,” Griffin wrote in his letter. “And often I would tag along to practices and watch Julius and his team play. Our familial relationship goes back generations. … The Jones family has always had strong values and deep commitments to the community.
“I feel terrible for everyone involved in the tragic events of the summer of 1999; however, I do believe that the wrong person is being punished for this crime. … Julius was sentenced to death in a trial rife with error and failure, putting into question the reliability of his conviction. I am very concerned that his original attorneys did not present an adequate defense for Julius. The jury did not hear that the Jones family was hosting a game night at the time of the crime and that Julius was present. … Two of the key witnesses, who were implicated in the crime and did no time for the murder or car robbery, were given deals on other charges in exchange for their testimony against Julius. … As a proud son of Oklahoma, I ask you to correct this injustice and commute Julius Jones’ sentence.”
Young, who recently spoke at a peaceful protest in Norman in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement, also cited concerns with Jones’ sentencing in his letter.
“I and so many other people have been called to raise concerns regarding Julius Jones’ case because of the many obvious ways in which the legal system failed him,” Young said. ”Julius’ co-defendant, who testified against him, changed his story no fewer than six times when interviewed by the police. However, Julius’s attorneys, who lacked death penalty experience and were woefully unprepared, failed to cross-examine the co-defendant regarding his inconsistencies. They did not mention that Julius’ co-defendant had bragged to fellow inmates that he had committed the homicide, not Julius. Nor did they inform jurors that Julius did not meet the description of the shooter provided by the sole eye witness.
“Right now, Julius Jones’ life is in your hands. When I am not sure what to do, I seek guidance from God. I pray that you will find in your hearts the love and mercy for Julius that I have found, and recommend and grant his commutation.”
Westbrook, who's been a Houston Rockets guard since 2019, also wrote to Gov. Stitt and the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, which the public affairs firm Amber Integrated also made available.
“Julius’ public defenders lacked the resources, expertise and motivation to fight for his life,” Westbrook said. ”Though Julius and his family members were expecting to testify about his whereabouts at the time of the crime, none of them were called to the stand. … Throughout my childhood, there were ample opportunities to make poor choices. It is because of my parents, basketball and the grace of God that I did not follow the wrong crowd. Like many young people, Julius did not always make the best choices. Julius made a mistake in befriending his co-defendant, and as a result, his life has been altered forever.
“I humbly ask you to review Julis Jones’ commutation application and extend mercy towards him.”
Griffin, Young and Westbrook’s letters are all dated from April 27 and can be read in their entirety via NonDoc media.