Oklahoma State University students marched Monday night to bring attention to Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones and the fight to save his life.
OK State Stand United organized the rally, urging the people there to contact Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office to let him know they want him to accept a recommendation for clemency approved Nov. 1 by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
The board members voted 3-1 to commute Jones’ sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Jones is still scheduled to be executed Nov. 18 and his fate now rests with the governor.
OK State Stand United President Mar’Tessa Willis said she has concerns and generally sees bias in the criminal justice system.
“It doesn’t feel right to me to have a system where we make it legal to basically murder people when we know our system isn’t solid, we don’t have all the right answers all the time, we aren’t always right,” Willis said. “There is still tons of bias in the world that contributes to people being in the prison system … Until the system treats everyone equally, the death penalty will inevitably be biased.”
The organizers are focused on urging the governor – by sending emails and making phone calls – to approve the clemency recommendation.
“We’re hoping that now that the Pardon and Parole Board has approved the commutation and clemency, Gov. Stitt will see that ‘Hey, people want this man to live, people are seeing that the case is not solid. He’s been in jail for 20 years, there’s not really enough evidence to keep him there anymore,’” Willis said. “We want to show Gov. Stitt that we’re listening, we’re aware, we see what happened with this case, we see that Julius needs our help … We want to show that we are in support of Julius Jones. Our campus cares, we’re here.”
But Jadyn Powell of OK State Stand United said she doesn’t think Jones life will truly be saved until he has been freed.
That is not a sentiment shared by members of Paul Howell’s family, who have told multiple media outlets they are offended and feel re-victimized when they see celebrities pleading for the life of the man they believe killed Howell for a car.
There is no disagreement that on July 28, 1999 Paul Howell, 45, was shot in the head as he pulled into his parents’ Edmond driveway after an evening of back-to-school shopping with his two young daughters and his sister.
They were in the car with Howell and witnessed his murder.
In September, his daughter Rachel Howell told Barbara Hoberock of the Tulsa World that she, her sister and aunt rushed out of the car after Paul was shot as he opened his door. She remembers hearing a second gunshot before the killer left, taking the family’s car.
By July 30, Christopher Jordan had been arrested. On July 31, Julius Jones – described by the Oklahoman as “a former John Marshall High School athlete and scholar student” – was arrested and a gun identified by ballistics testing as the murder weapon was found in his home, wrapped in a bandanna.
Jordan, who said he was only the driver, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2001 and testified against Jones in exchange for a 30-year sentence.
He was released from prison in 2014.
Jones was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to death.
Jones’ and his supporters have maintained his innocence and made claims of ineffective representation and bias in his trial.
Multiple cellmates of Jordan have come forward with stories of him admitting to the killing and saying he framed Jones, they say.
The Howell family doesn’t buy it and has created a website, justiceforpaulhowell.com, that presents facts they say refute the claims made by Jones and his supporters.
Jones’ case has been taken up by the Innocence Project, a legal team founded in 1992 at the Cardozo School of Law, that re-examines cases and uses DNA with the goal of exonerating wrongly-convicted individuals.
The Innocence Project features information about Jones’ case on its website at https://innocenceproject.org/julius-jones-death-row-oklahoma-what-to-know/.
Over the years, Jones’ case has attracted the attention of more than 6.2 million people who signed a petition calling for his death sentence to be commuted. He also has high-profile supporters like Kim Kardashian.
OK State Stand United members say there are too many questions about his trial to justify executing him or even keeping him in prison. Jones has served 20 years.
“We’re not going to stand idly by and watch an innocent man be executed without just a little bit of a fight,” Willis said.