During a Wednesday presser, Baker Mayfield — current quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and former Heisman winner from the University of Oklahoma — pleaded with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant clemency to Julius Jones, who was scheduled to be executed by the state on Thursday. The story has since spread among sports fans and reporters, and now many users have learned of Stitt’s decision to commute Jones’ sentence from NBA insider Shams Charania this afternoon.
Here’s the background on Julius Jones:
In 1999, the state convicted Julius Jones, then 19, of the murder of Paul Howell, a businessman in the affluent Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond. Jones has maintained his innocence for more than two decades.
The Jones case drew attention after ABC profiled it in The Last Defense, a three-episode documentary. Since the doc aired in 2018, athletes with ties to Oklahoma — including Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Trae Young, and Mayfield — have pushed for Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence. Kim Kardashian West also visited Jones in jail.
According to ABC, Jones’ attorneys have argued the following:
Jones alleges that his co-defendant Christopher Jordan, who testified against him, actually killed Howell and then framed Jones for the crime.
“Paul Howell’s sister, Megan Tobey, who was an eyewitness to her brother’s killing, testified in court that the gunman was wearing a stocking cap that came down ‘about a half an inch to an inch’ above his ears, and that hair was sticking out from both sides. Jones’ attorneys suggest this was a better description of Jones’ co-defendant who testified against him, Christopher Jordan, who had corn-row braids at the time, and that the jury was never shown a photo of Jones taken a week before the murder that showed him with short, close-cropped hair.”
In contrast, “prosecutors say Tobey testified she never saw braids and that her testimony was referring to how much hair was visible between the top of the ear and the stocking cap, not the hair length. Prosecutors also note that a federal district court addressed this issue, noting ‘the length of (Jones’) hair compared to Mr. Jordan’s is not a persuasive showing of actual innocence.'”
Jones’ alibi is another point of contention in the case. Jones and his family say that he was at home with them on the night of Howell’s murder but that no one in court presented this information during the trial.
Prosecutors call that accusation a “blatant falsehood.” According to ABC, the prosecutors say, “Jones’ trial attorney never called the family to the witness stand because Jones repeatedly told his attorneys that he was not at home on the night of the murder. They also note that three people saw Jones with Howell’s stolen Suburban shortly after the killing. Even Jones’ trial attorney, David McKenzie, wrote in an affidavit that he ‘personally concluded that the alibi defense was untrue.'”
Police found the murder weapon wrapped in a bandana believed to have been worn by the shooter in an attic space above Jones’ bedroom, per Axios. The bandana had Jones’ DNA on it. Jones claims Christopher Jordan placed the weapon in his attic after killing Howell.
Then there is the racial angle to this case. After Jones’ conviction, a juror in Jones’ trial wrote in an affidavit that another juror used a racial epithet and said that the jurors themselves should take Jones behind the jail and shoot him.
“Prosecutors argue that when the trial judge asked her about this allegation the day after the alleged incident, she never mentioned the racial epithet. And the judge’s bailiff signed an affidavit saying the juror never reported this, as she said she did.”
So everyone has an opinion on a complicated matter. And in the 11th hour on Thursday, Gov. Kevin Stitt granted Julius Jones clemency, which will commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Stitt said in a statement that he has decided to do so “[a]fter prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case.”
Ultimately, it’s unclear whether last-ditch efforts this week from popular figures like Baker Mayfield played a role in Stitt’s decision. However, the public pleas did indeed spread awareness about the case to people who were previously unfamiliar with it.