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Julius Jones clemency hearing: Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommends life sentence, possibility of parole

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Jabee

Rapper Jonathan Blake Williams Jr., known as Jabee, protests at a Justice for Julius clemency hearing, rally and vigil in Oklahoma City on Nov. 1.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended commuting Julius Jones’ death sentence to life with the possibility of parole in a 3-1 vote to grant clemency. 

The board’s recommendation will now be sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for review. Jones’ execution date is currently set for Nov. 18. State law dictates a death row inmate’s clemency hearing must be scheduled no less than 21 days before their execution date.  

Justice for Julius campaign director Cece Jones-Davis said after an Oct. 26 vigil that though Stitt chose not to act on the board’s Sept. 13 recommendation to commute Jones’ sentence, she’s hopeful he will act on a clemency recommendation. 

Jones has been on death row since 2002 for the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell. Jones has maintained his innocence throughout the case, claiming he wasn’t present for the crime and didn’t learn Howell was killed until the day after. 

Jones made a statement during the hearing in what he said was his first chance in over 20 years to discuss the facts of the case.

Jones said he first met co-defendant Chris Jordan as a junior at John Marshall High School and he knew he was “rough around the edges.” Even though the two played basketball together for a few years, Jones said they rarely spent time together. 

Because Jones’ family was middle-class, he said he didn’t own the luxurious items a lot of his peers had. To fit in, Jones began stealing and also took tests for friends for a fee. 

Through doing this, Jones learned Jordan wanted to play college basketball, but couldn’t pass the ACT. Despite his better judgment, Jones said he wanted to give Jordan the same opportunities he had and agreed to help him, building the foundations of what would become a close friendship. 

“Every day, for the past 22 years, I have regretted these decisions,” Jones said. “And I hope my story can be a lesson for all young people — keeping the wrong company, sacrificing your values for a few bucks comes with a very high price. It can cost you 22 years of your life, or it can literally cause your death.” 

Jones said July 28, 1999, was “the beginning of the end of my life.” 

He said he’d just celebrated his 19th birthday and was spending the evening at his parents’ house playing dominoes with his brother Antonio while his mother fixed his sister Antoinette’s hair. He was expecting Jordan to pick him up and fell asleep while waiting. 

Jordan finally arrived between 11 and 11:30 p.m. and Jones said he was upset that he was so late. Jordan informed Jones he’d gotten into a conflict with a few men and ended up shooting them. Jones said he was shocked, but didn’t ask more questions, thinking the less he knew about the situation, the better. 

Jones said he was dropped back off at his family’s house later that night and fell asleep again. He woke up to Ladell King, a friend of Jordan, who was looking for Jordan. 

King said he needed help moving a car and Jones agreed. King drove Jones from his parents’ house to King’s apartment and told Jones to follow him in a Chevrolet Suburban. Jones said he refused because he was fairly certain the car was stolen. King ended up driving the Suburban and Jones drove King’s red Firebird. 

The two stopped at a grocery store, left the Suburban in the parking lot and rode together in the Firebird to an auto shop. Jones said King went into the garage when they got there and came out “looking spooked.” 

Jones and King drove silently back to the Suburban and, when they got there, King said the shop didn’t want the Suburban because there was a “body on it.” Jones said he took this to mean someone had likely been shot or killed. At this point, Jones said he should have called the police, but he was scared. 

King and Jones found Jordan at a recreation center where they’d often go to play basketball. When Jones walked into the gym, he said he found King and Jordan in the middle of a “very serious discussion.” 

Jones and Jordan left for Jones’ house together and, when they arrived, Jordan said he had to make a call. As he was waiting for a call back, Jordan asked to see the news and the two saw a report that a man had been shot and killed during the robbery of a Suburban. 

“It was at this point that things started to add up for me that Chris and Ladell were involved in this,” Jones said. “It was stupid of me and naive of me not to go to the police with what I knew, but I was scared.” 

Jones said he was asleep when the police arrested him early in the morning of July 31 and they didn’t even give him a chance to put on a shirt. He said he was pulled out of bed and put in handcuffs. The events that followed were “a whirlwind.” 

Jones’ defense team has claimed Jordan initially encouraged police to investigate Jones. Jordan was used as the state’s main witness against Jones, claiming to only be a “getaway driver” in Paul Howell’s murder, despite the beliefs of many that he matches the only eyewitness’s description of the suspect. 

“I am here before you today to tell you what I never got to tell the jury in my trial,” Jones said. “Yes, I’ve made many mistakes in my youth, but I did not kill Paul Howell.” 

Jones’ attorney Amanda Bass said an Oklahoma Bar Association investigation revealed King was a longtime police informant in exchange for deals on his charges, or the avoidance of charges entirely. She also said though Jordan was sentenced to between 30 and 35 years in prison, he was released after just 15 years

Bass said the jury in Jones’ trial “failed to consider key evidence” and never heard the testimony of multiple individuals who said they heard Jordan bragging about killing Paul Howell and blaming Jones for the crime. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office claimed none of those individuals are credible because they have felony convictions, Bass alleged. 

Outside of these individuals, one inmate who served time in an Arkansas prison with Jordan said Jordan admitted to killing Howell and is letting Jones take the blame, according to a March report from the Frontier. 

“The criminal justice system failed Mr. Howell because the person and the people who are ultimately responsible for his death have not been held accountable,” Bass said. “And it also failed Julius by condemning him to death for something that he did not do. Reckoning with the failures of our system and of the fallible people in it is the first step towards righting the wrongs that were done, and preventing yet another innocent life from being lost.” 

State attorneys Jennifer Crabb and Caroline Hunt said in their statement they believe the jury made the correct decision when they sentenced Jones to death row. Crabb said she believes Jones murdered Howell to sell his Suburban, and he viewed the money as more valuable than Howell’s life.

Crabb pointed to Jones’ criminal record before Howell’s murder, which included shoplifting and the carjacking of a Lexus. Bass brought these claims into question, citing the fact Jones was never charged for several of those crimes. 

“The Howell family is facing an uphill battle today — not because Julius Jones’ defense claims he’s innocent, because we know he’s not — but because this involves the death penalty,” Megan Toby, Howell’s sister, said. “I hope all of you approach this clemency hearing with an open mind and follow the rules set because this isn’t about the death penalty. It’s about the truth, the facts and the evidence in this case.” 

Pardon and Parole Board members Kelly Doyle, Larry Morris and Adam Luck voted to commute Jones’ sentence and Richard Smothermon voted against it. 

Doyle said she’s still unsure if Jones is guilty, so the “ultimate punishment” shouldn’t be utilized. Morris said if Jordan is equally culpable in Howell’s murder, the discrepancy between his and Jones’ sentences is unfair.

“Even though it may or may not be our role to determine whether or not someone is guilty or innocent, we do have the authority to make a recommendation to the governor based on our own opinions as to whether or not this man is deserving of some leniency in his sentencing,” Morris said. “And, at this point, I am convinced that he is deserving of that.” 

senior news reporter

Ari Fife is a senior news reporter and a senior journalism major minoring in international studies and political science. Previously, she served as a summer editor-in-chief, news managing editor, assistant news managing editor and a senior news reporter.

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