ABC documentary “The Last Defense” to premiere spotlighting Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones and Darlie Routier

OKLAHOMA CITY – A new documentary series, titled “The Last Defense,” executive produced by actress Viola Davis and Julius Tennon, will premier Tuesday (June 12) on the ABC Television Network at 10 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST).

The seven-episode docu-series spotlights the serious flaws in the American justice system and the high rate of exonerated death row inmates.
The first episode will take an in-depth look at the case of Julius Jones on Oklahoma’s death row.
In 2012, Davis and her husband Julius founded JuVee Productions, with a focus being on “giving a voice to the voiceless through strong, impactful and culturally relevant narratives.”
The couple have partnered with XCON Productions and Lincoln Square Productions for the project.

In 2001, Julius Jones, a 21-year-old African-American college student with an academic scholarship, was sentenced to death for the carjacking murder of a white father of two, in Edmond, Oklahoma. Now 37 and having exhausted his appeals, Jones still maintains his innocence.
The documentary follows the progress of the attorneys who are working to save Julius from the ultimately state punishment.
Jones’ attorneys believe that race and the juror’s pre-conceived notions of him, were leading factors in the results of his trial.

“On April 25, 2017, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission issued a report that detailed the numerous systemic flaws within Oklahoma’s system of capital punishment,” Amanda Bass, an assistant federal public defender working on the Jones team of lawyers, said in a statement sent to The City Sentinel. “Appended to the report was a novel study about racially disparate capital sentencing outcomes in Oklahoma.
“This new study demonstrates the troubling fact that Julius was among those who, between 1990 and 2012, were statistically more likely to be sentenced to death in Oklahoma based on the race of their alleged victim alone,” said Bass. “In this way, Julius’s death sentence is unlawful under the Oklahoma and federal constitutions.”

As reported by Patrick B. McGuigan, publisher of The City Sentinel, the referenced new study now published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology – “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides Committed Between 1990 and 2012” – documents patterns and practices in state death penalty cases that violate federal judicial precedents, specifically binding on lower courts, regarding constitutionally impermissible impact on black defendants.
Authors of the study are Michael L. Radelet (University of Colorado-Boulder), Susan Sharp (University of Oklahoma), and Glenn Pierce (Northeastern University).

Based on this report, Jones asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) on September 22, 2017, to consider whether or not his death sentence violated his rights under the Oklahoma and federal constitutions, but was refused.
“The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals refused his request on the basis of a procedural technicality–yet another example of how that court puts form over substance even in cases where a human life hangs in the balance,” Bass said. “Mr. Jones is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision and to direct the OCCA to give his constitutional claims full and fair consideration before sanctioning his execution.”

In a supplement to a September 22 filing for Jones, one author of the study emphasizes the information is both new (previously unavailable) and relevant to the Jones case. These points are made anew in the write of certiorari filing at the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to Bass, the Julius’ case has now been reconferenced, or deferred until a later date, in the Supreme Court for the seventh time.
The world premiere of “The Last Defense” was held on April 27 at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

Reporter Rachel Lipkin covered the screening, which included the first hour of the Julius Jones case followed by a panel discussion with executive producers Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Christine Connor and Jones’ attorney Dale Baich ( 

“We know through the exonerations cases that many types of evidence that are used in courts today, and to send people to death row, are unreliable,” said Vanessa Potkin of Lincoln Square Productions.
156 individuals have been exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973. ( “When you’re facing an execution, and that execution is carried out, and we later find out that you’re innocent… there’s no undoing that wrongful conviction,” added Potkin.
Davis said The Last Defense hopes to shine a light on these case discrepancies for viewers and potential jurors.

“It’s not a new light. It’s just a light,” said Davis, an Academy-Award winning actor. “A light where things have always been eschewed, it’s just when we choose to see it.”
Tennon added, “We’re giving a voice to those who may not have a voice. And shining a light on that, so we as a general public can look and say ‘wow, that could be me too.”
Executive producer Aida Leisenring of Lincoln Square Productions said, “The more we’re able to educate them about the DNA evidence and about informant testimony and how it has its flaws, the more their ears will perk up when they’re listening to those kinds of witnesses. And so, we hope to help on a mass level, as opposed to one person at a time.”
Potkin added that she hopes that viewers will “understand that just because you’re convicted does not mean that you’re guilty.”

The Last Defense documentary will also examine the case of Darlie Routier, who is on death row in Texas. for the murder of her two young sons, a crime she insists she did not commit.
(Note: This story first appeared in the print edition of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City.)