Julius Jones has spent nearly 20 years behind bars for the 1999 murder of a man he says he didn’t kill. He was 19 when he was convicted and sent to death row, and has spent the last two decades saying he had no part in the killing of a Oklahoma businessman named Paul Howell, and his fight has won him some high profile allies like Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Trae Young and, notably, Kim Kardashian West. Kardashian West has entered a late stage act of her career as a justice system reform advocate, and she’s visited Jones in prison to learn more details of his case and join his quest for clemency.
As of this writing, Jones is still scheduled be executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma on Thursday, November 18. On November 1, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt was sent a recommendation from Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board, which voted 3-1 in favor of clemency. Stitt has yet to sign the recommendation, despite some serious doubts about Jones’ guilt.
At the time of Howell’s murder, Jones’ parents and sister say he was having dinner with them at his home. However, Jones’ trial lawyers did not call his family to present this alibi at his original trial. Jones himself was not called to testify on his own behalf either.
Moreover, there was only one eyewitness to the crime and her description of the killer doesn’t match Jones. She described a man with hair, but Jones’ head was shaved at the time.
Her account does match the description of another man named Christopher Jordan, who was present at the scene of the crime but claimed to have only been the getaway driver. Jordan testified that Jones was the killer in exchange for a plea deal that brought his sentence down to 15 years. He’s a free man today, but three separate inmates at three different times have testified in sworn affidavits that Jordan had confided that he was the real killer and had framed Jones. None of the three men knew each other or Jones, and none were offered any sort of incentive for saying what they said Jordan had told them.
That alone takes some pretty serious steam out of the certainty of Jones’ innocence, but there’s more. Of the 12 people on the jury at Jones’ original trial, 11 were White. One of those White jurors called Jones the n-word during deliberations, suggesting he should be taken out back and shot. This, at the very least, makes it pretty clear that Jones was not judged by a jury of his peers in any meaningful sense of the word.
If Jones’ death sentence is carried out, he will be the first person to be executed by the state of Oklahoma since 2015, when a series of botched executions led to a moratorium on capital punishment.