In July 1999, Julius Jones, an African American, was 19 years-old, enjoying the summer before his sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship. The middle child of three in a tight-knit family, Julius had always excelled at sports and school and was a happy teenager with a promising future.
This story is a carbon copy to many of our own, individuals like me, and those I serve. As I express my concerns about this case, it is with solemn regret and utter heartache that I am reminded of the many atrocities that have gone uncorrected here in my state of Oklahoma. I pray that we will agree that there is work to be done — maybe a good starting place is right here.
On the evening of July 28, Julius’ mom, dad and siblings say he was at home with them, eating spaghetti and playing Monopoly. At the exact same time, in Edmond, Paul Howell was tragically murdered in his own driveway, seemingly for his Suburban vehicle. The crime, heartbreaking and senseless, occurred 9 miles away from where the Jones family was gathered.
Edmond police found a network of career criminals who were involved in a “chop shop” for stolen cars, including two men who were both longtime police informants and convicted felons. One of these men fit the only eyewitness description of the shooter — Julius did not. Deals with the prosecution were made, and these men became state witnesses against the new suspect: Julius Jones.
Julius was assigned an underfunded and inexperienced legal team — three public defenders who had never tried a capital case. They didn’t even call his family to the stand to testify that he was with them at the time the crime occurred.
The state failed to disclose fully that its witnesses were informants and/or got plea deals. One was never charged. Another served 15 years of a 30-year sentence and today, is a free man. Meanwhile, Julius — who has always maintained his innocence — awaits his execution. He is seeking DNA analysis on a key piece of evidence that the police did not test in 1999.
One of the most disturbing elements of the case came to light through the production of a television series produced by Viola Davis, “The Last Defense,” featuring Julius’ case. A juror revealed that during the trial, another juror told her it was all a waste of time and “they should just take the n ****r out and shoot him behind the jail.” She says she told the judge, and he did nothing.
As a state legislator and pastor, I cannot remain silent. These facts have brought to light such a broad exposure to the public of missteps that I believe the citizens of Oklahoma and this country should be alarmed. The overlooking of a juror being unfit to serve brings a myriad of reasons “we the people” must act when the need is necessary. This type of information being swept under the rug further perpetuates major concerns within our legal system.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals now has a chance to grant Julius a hearing on whether the juror’s use of the n-word infected the trial. For the public’s faith in the criminal justice system, to show the courts aren’t complacent about racism in a juror, and to make sure an innocent person isn’t executed, Mr. Jones needs a new day in court.
George Young has served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2014, representing Oklahoma City.