Although court documents state that a member of the Oklahoma jury that sentenced Julius Jones to death for the July 1999 fatal shooting of 45-year-old Paul Howell said in front of another juror that “They should just take that [n-word] out and shoot him behind the jail,” and a witness reportedly informed the judge of the comment, but the judge did not take any action, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed a petition filed by Jones late last month seeking a hearing to present new evidence of racial bias in his 2002 trial that ended with his death sentence.
The City Sentinel reports that federal public defender Dale Baich argued that “No court has ever considered all the extensive evidence in this case, including evidence of explicit racial bias, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and informant testimony. We will continue to seek a fair hearing for Mr. Jones, who was wrongfully convicted and has spent 18 years on Oklahoma’s death row for a crime he did not commit.”
Jones was 19 years old, and a student at the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship, when he and Christopher Jordan, a suspected gang member, were arrested for the carjacking murder of 45-year-old Paul Howell. Howell was shot in the head, his sister and two children who were with him weren’t injured.
After their arrest, Jordan pointed to Jones as the shooter. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and released after serving 15. Jones was sentenced to death.
But the evidence against Jones was problematic. The victim’s sister, the only eyewitness, testified that the shooter had on a ski cap, with about half an inch of hair sticking out the sides. Jones had extremely short hair, Jordan’s was long. And a red bandana, which the sister said the shooter was wearing over his face, was never tested for DNA at the time of Jones’ arrest. It was not until six months ago that the state agreed to test certain items, including the bandana.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a petition filed last November by Jones’ lawyers. The petition is asking the Court to order a hearing on Jones’ case based on issues raised by the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, which released an exhaustive report in April 2017 that detailed numerous flaws in the state’s death penalty scheme, including racial disparity in death sentencing. Describing it as “an extraordinary case,” the National Law Journal says the Court will decide “If the risk of racial bias in Oklahoma can be statistically proven, does that make a death sentence unconstitutional?” And in the next sentence, noted “The high Court previously found that racial bias is a ‘constitutionally impermissible’ factor in death sentencing.”
The Court was scheduled to review the petition on September 24th, but postponed the review, and has not rescheduled.