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‘I Have Doubts in This Case’: Board Recommends Commuting Sentence of Oklahoma Death Row Inmate

Julius Jones prison photo

Julius Jones

An Oklahoma parole board has voted to commute the sentence of 41-year-old death row inmate Julius Jones for killing a man in front of his family during a 1999 carjacking, according to local reports.

“I believe in death penalty cases there should be no doubt, and put simply, I have doubts in this case,” board Chairman Adam Luck reportedly said. “I cannot ignore those doubts, especially when the stakes are life and death.”

The 3-to-1 recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole puts Jones’s fate before Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), whose determination will be closely watched by death penalty opponents, multiple celebrities, and many in the general public.

Stitt’s office said he is still considering his decision on what to do.

“The governor takes his role in this process seriously and will carefully consider the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation as he does in all cases,” the office said in a statement to KOCO. “We will not have any further comment until the governor has made a decision.”

Jones’ case is a cause célébre, with people highlighting his alibi for that July 28, 1999, when authorities said someone shot and killed Howell in front of his sister and two young daughters, and stole his SUV. High profile supporters include late show host James Corden, reality television star Kim Kardashian, and professional athletes Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin.

His family said he was at his parents’ home. His trial defense faced criticism for failing to have them testify. Julius’ younger sister Antoinette Jones said they had dinner, played monopoly, and said he got mad about their brother eating most of his leftover birthday cake.

“I remember because he was pacing, saying, ‘I can’t believe he ate my cake, he’s always eating my stuff. I can’t wait to tell Momma,'” Antoinette Jones told The Washington Post.

Paul’s daughter Rachel Howell, who witnessed the murder as a child, said Jones is guilty.

“These celebrities and influencers don’t bother to reach out to us about it. I think the thing that is most frustrating about all this is you influence your followers,” she told KFOR in a new report. “If you’re a celebrity, an influencer, an athlete, you have a lot of followers who look up to you. I think the only thing I want these celebrities to know is to think about the victim’s family. Take the time to at least look at both sides. You don’t have all the information.”

The office of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has argued against Jones’ alibi, saying it lacks credibility and that there’s evidence the defendant himself contradicted it. From July 2020:

Jones claims his lawyers failed to present his family as alibi witnesses. However, this alibi was thoroughly investigated, and discredited. Jones’ then-girlfriend, Analiese Presley, testified at trial that Jones told her he was somewhere “on the south side [of Oklahoma City]” when Paul Howell was murdered … In his direct appeal, Jones alleged that his trial attorneys should have called his family members to testify that he was at home at the time of the murder. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered an evidentiary hearing on this claim. At the hearing, the State proved that Jones’ attorneys thoroughly investigated this possible alibi—including speaking with Jones’ parents and sister, Jones himself, and a friend named B.C. whom Jones’ parents said was also present—and chose not to raise it for two primary reasons … First, David McKenzie and Malcolm Savage both testified that Jones repeatedly told them his family was mistaken and he was not at home on the night of the murder … Jones was “unequivocal that he was not at home with his parents, as his parents had described, with regard to the evening that Mr. Howell was murdered.”

[Prison photo via Oklahoma Department of Corrections]

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