Oklahoma panel advances convicted killer’s commutation

National News

FILE – This Feb. 5, 2018, file photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows Julius Jones. Jones, an Oklahoma death row inmate whose case has drawn national attention has cleared the first hurdle in his quest for a reduced sentence. The Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Monday, March 8, 2021, to advance Julius Jones’ commutation request to a second stage. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Monday to advance death row inmate Julius Jones’ request for a reduced sentence, setting up the possibility that he could avoid lethal injection.

The board’s approval moves Jones’ commutation request to a second-stage hearing later this year in which Jones and his supporters will be able to address the board. If approved at the second stage, the commutation request will be forwarded to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for a final decision.

Jones, 40, maintains he is innocent of the 1999 shooting death of Edmond businessman Paul Howell, who was shot to death in front of his family during a carjacking.

Jones’ case drew the attention of reality television star Kim Kardashian West and numerous professional athletes with Oklahoma ties after it was featured in 2018 on the ABC television documentary series “The Last Defense.”

State prosecutors say the evidence against Jones is overwhelming and have defended his death sentence, urging the board to reject his commutation request.

“To this day, Jones has not expressed an ounce of remorse for his callous actions,” District Attorney David Prater wrote in a letter to the panel. “Instead, he continues to victimize the Howell family by fueling a media circus with outright lies and by making a farce of this clemency process.”

Last week, Jones’ legal team released a video and a letter from a man who served time in an Arkansas prison with a man who claimed he was with Jones when Howell was killed, testified against him and served 10 years in prison. That man, Christopher Jordan, has since been released. In the video, Arkansas inmate Roderick Wesley alleges that Jordan confessed to killing Howell and framing Jones.

Prater’s letter didn’t specifically address this most recent allegation, but noted that appellate courts rejected claims that Jones’ attorneys were ineffective for not calling two other inmates who made similar claims that Jordan confessed to killing Howell.

“Christopher Jordan spent years behind bars casually confessing to murder and to framing Julius,” Jones’ attorney Dale Baich said in a statement. “It is unimaginable that the state would execute a man given that another suspect in the case confessed to the crime multiple times.”

Attorney General Mike Hunter said he was disappointed with the board’s recommendation.

“The three members who voted in favor of moving Jones to stage two did not apply objective standards to the law or the evidence,” Hunter said in a statement. “I encourage those members to go back and look at the 33-page protest letter and 849-page appendix we submitted last Monday, which completely invalidates every claim that Julius Jones is innocent.”

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