OKLAHOMA CITY – Just 13 months ago, the two attorneys leading efforts to save the life of Julius Jones – who I do not believe committed an act of murder in 1999 – unveiled their drive to encourage the Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board to commute the death sentence that has hung over his head since 2002.
As Dale Baich, the federal public defender from Arizona who has been legal counsel to Jones, put it when he announced the effort, “We have a heavy lift.” (http://city-sentinel.com/2019/06/lawyers-activists-seek-clemency-for-julius-jones-case-issues-detailed/)
Many more have since that night shown up in varied ways to share the load seeking Justice for Julius. The effort must succeed so that Oklahoma avoids an awful reckoning in the execution of an innocent man. (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/commentary-in-the-search-for-justice-the-job-of-advocates-is-to-advocate)
Vanessa Potkin, who is Director of Postconviction Litigation for the Innocence Project, also spoke at the June 2019 annual dinner of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP). (http://city-sentinel.com/2019/06/ok-cadp-fundraiser-features-innocence-projects-vanessa-potkin-and-pays-tribute-to-death-penalty-foe-jim-rowan/)
She gave the shocking factual summary about wrongful convictions and subsequent exonerations in the United States.
To restate and update it:
Oklahoma’s problems with the process of executions are well-known, thoroughly documented, rationally stated and amply demonstrated. They are systemic, rooted in not only past and proposed “protocols” for killing those convicted, but in the processes of investigation and the conduct of trials before conviction.
The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission (https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/OklaDeathPenalty.pdf) completed its work in 2017.
That is still the only review of its kind – a credit to those who worked on it. They were willing to “go there” – and their work has helped lengthen the moratorium that has been sustained since October 2015.
Anyone who actually studies the process, including the commission’s review, cannot possibly believe it is wise to resume using the death chamber at McAlester and that it is good public policy to resume executions in Oklahoma in any circumstances.
However, as federal officials begin again the process of executions (three in the past week) (https://www.npr.org/2020/07/17/892433000/justice-department-executes-third-federal-prisoner-in-a-week), it’s time for some plain speaking — including about the actual innocence of Julius Jones.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter asserts Jones is, without doubt, the person who pulled the trigger on the gun from which the bullet emerged to kill a beloved resident of Edmond, Paul Howell. Hunter held a press conference in which he explicitly declared the guilt of Julius Jones – doubters be damned.
I will not concede.
The Jones family says the honors graduate of John Marshall High School was at home playing board games the night of the killing. I believe them, and not the veiled references to one contradictor. The eye-witness testimony did not and could not directly identify Julius Jones.
Days after the murder, police showed up and quite literally tore the Jones home apart looking for evidence to make their case against young Jones. When I write “tore apart” I am speaking literally.
In that mass of confusion and contention, the finding of a gun – wrapped in a bandanna – should surprise almost no one.
The bandanna was referenced but not examined for two decades.
How can the above paragraphs be deemed good process?
Once the bandanna was finally studied – after a decade and a half in an evidence box — Hunter and the local D.A. declared that testing “proved” Jones is guilty.
I call B.S.
In the recent 2020 Special Edition featuring Julius Jones, Lawrence Koblinsky, a DNA expert from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice stated, “The evidence consists of a bandanna which has a stain…and that stain has a contribution of three donors.” That is the truth.
Baich’s co-counsel Amanda Bass, as seen in a recent television documentary, observed, “The lab determined that there was a partial DNA profile that was consistent with Julius’ DNA profile at 7 out of the 21 tested genetic markers. These results do not constitute a match under law enforcement standards.” That is the truth.
And that’s not all.
Koblinsky said, “How the DNA got there is a very, very important question.” As Bass pointed out, “The red bandana was located in Julius’ bedroom after the police had handled a number of items in Julius’ bedroom.”
Koblinsky asserts, “When you find something in the home of a suspect, you’ve got to be especially careful because you never know how the DNA got on an object.”
Bass observes, accurately: “The district attorney and the Oklahoma attorney general immediately came out and said, ‘these lab results prove that Julius is guilty.’”
She tells the truth. The lab results proved nothing of the kind:
“The lab could not exclude Chris Jordan being among the 3 or more minor contributors of the DNA on the bandana, so no, he [Jordan] could not be excluded,” Bass told 2020.
Chris Jordan –- sentenced to 30 years and only served 15 –- the guy who got incentivized with a promise he would not face the death penalty so long as he testified that his basketball buddy, Julius Jones, was the trigger man.
Mike Hunter has made some dramatic agreements that were not, after all, agreements.
He had used the tone of certainty about guilt in matters where there is plenty of room for doubt about guilt.
As The City Sentinel reported long ago, the local D.A. promised to share a case file (September 2018) that no lawyer for Jones has ever studied – then reneged on that pledge.
In a recent online town hall, attorney Dale Baich noted, “We have been trying to get that file since the winter of 2017 and the district attorney just won’t let go of it. There may be something of import in that file or there may be nothing.
“My question is, what does the district attorney have to hide? This should be transparent. For God’s sake, the state of Oklahoma is trying to kill one of its citizens. Why are they playing hide the ball? It should be a very simple decision for the district attorney to say, ‘here’s my file.’”
The above outlines multiple reasons to never, ever, move toward execution of Julius Jones.
All this even before consideration of issues of race raised in this particular case based on evidence, not mere supposition.
The proposition the state should move even one step toward this execution is even more dubious in the present context of broader matters. Commutation is the path of wisdom, because doubt and evidence of actual innocence abide.
This fall, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board (https://www.kosu.org/post/oklahoma-ag-hunter-says-death-row-inmates-can-apply-commutation) plans may move ahead with consideration of a range of cases, including that of Julius Jones.
The argument is made that finality of judgment is needed – that judicial appeals have been exhausted, so the doubters need to shut up.
The P&P board may be the last means, as yet envisioned, to stop the execution of Julius Jones. But process defense should not be declared stronger than the provision of justice itself.
No need to wait on appeals to any higher authority. (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/commentary-let-s-call-the-whole-thing-off-as-policy-and-for-principle-no-more-executions)
In his own right, Governor Kevin Stitt should support commutation and consider the evidence for exoneration.
The Attorney General should consider, in the light of abundant evidence, the possibility he is mistaken about certain things.
The P&P Board should end the possibility that the State of Oklahoma will ever execute Julius Jones.
The foregoing is just for starters.
With or without celebrities.
With or without documentaries.
With or without further judicial review.
With or without any official acts of courage.
Julius Jones is innocent and his sentence should be commuted to time served.
Oklahoma needs to end use of the death penalty.
Now, and forever more.
Note: Patrick B. McGuigan is publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper.
The author confused the numbers concerning exoneration in the
original version. On July 26, it was revised to read correctly, as