Oklahoma death row inmate gets one last chance to plead his case: "We are fighting for a man's life"


Oklahoma death row inmate gets one last chance to plead his case: "We are fighting for a man's life"

/ CBS News

An Oklahoma man on death row for a murder he says he did not commit will have one last chance to plead his case at a clemency hearing today.

In 1999, at the age of 19, Julius Jones was convicted of killing Paul Howell. Jones has always maintained his innocence, and his family says he was home at the time of the murder.

In September, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended Gov. Kevin Stitt commute Jones' sentence to life in prison. The board's chairman said, "I believe in death penalty cases there should be no doubt, and put simply, I have doubts in this case."

Both families want the same thing – justice – but they see the case very differently.

Paul Howell's daughter is adamant that Jones killed her father and that the evidence supports that.

Oklahoma death row inmate gets one last chance to plead his case: "We are fighting for a man's life"
Julius Jones, who is scheduled to be executed for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, has one final chance at clemency, after claiming that he was wrongly convicted.    CBS News

The Jones family says Julius is innocent, that race played a role in his conviction, and the system failed him when he was 19 years old. They say, now it's time his side is heard.

Julius' sister, Antoinette Jones, is leading the force that's pushing to keep her older brother alive.

"We are fighting for a man's life," Antoinette told correspondent Mireya Villarreal. "What you are seeing us do is what should have been done 20 years ago."

Villarreal asked, "What is the truth about him?"

"The truth about my brother is, he is an innocent man on death row."

On July 28, 1999, Paul Howell was murdered outside his parents' home in front of his family. His SUV was stolen, and witnesses reported seeing a Black man with a red bandana and 1-2 inches of hair shoot the father of two.

Three days later, 19-year-old Julius Jones was arrested at his home. His family says eyewitness descriptions don't match Julius, who at the time had a shaved head.

Villarreal asked Antoinette, "What makes you so sure they have the wrong person?"

"Because I know where my brother was that night of the murder of Mr. Paul Scott," she replied. "He was at home with his family. We were eating spaghetti and cornbread. Before we ate spaghetti and cornbread, we were playing Monopoly."

For years the family has asserted neither Jones nor his family were allowed to testify about critical details because his defense team was inadequate. They say his public defender was inexperienced and didn't cross-examine witnesses.

They also say race played a role, pointing to a White juror and the officer who arrested him allegedly calling Jones the N-word.

A 2018 documentary about Jones, "The Last Defense," focused on evidence attorneys did not present at court about Christopher Jordan. 

Jordan was convicted of murder for driving the getaway car in Howell's death, but he has allegedly admitted to at least three others that he shot Howell and framed Jones.

Jones spoke to the film crew from jail saying he regretted not saying it was Jordan who committed the crime.

"I mean, this is probably my greatest downfall, that I never said anything to the police," Jones said. "But where I grew up, you're not supposed to be telling other people's business because bad things can happen to you. These people set me up to take the fall. Because they knew someone was going to fry for this."

Since the documentary aired, Jones' case has received attention from celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Stephen Curry.

Rachel Howell was nine years old when her father was killed, and was with him that day. "There's a lot of misinformation around this case," she said, "and the public has been given a false narrative about this case.

"Julius Jones and his family and their supporters claim that he did not get the opportunity to testify in court," said Howell. "That is completely false. You can find it in the transcripts, if you do the research. They asked him multiple times if he is waiving his right to testify, and he's agreed, he did not want to testify."

Jones' clemency hearing is the first time she'll actually get to confront the man convicted of killing her father. Howell told Villarreal, "He was an innocent man, taking his kids to get ice cream with my aunt. He was murdered in front of me and my sister and my aunt. Understand that we are the victims here. We have done nothing wrong, and it almost feels like we are doing something wrong by speaking out."

Their hope for truth is a sentiment shared by the Jones family.

"They want justice," Villarreal said.

"They want justice; we want justice," said Antoinette Jones. "That's why every time I say, 'Justice for Julius,' and every time I'm fighting for my brother, I'm fighting for Mr. Paul Howell."

Multiple appeals courts have upheld the ruling, saying that the case was conducted fairly.  

If at today's hearing clemency is recommended, the final word goes to Oklahoma's governor. He decides whether or not Julius Jones lives or dies. If he does grant clemency, that doesn't mean Jones will immediately walk out of jail. 

If he is not granted clemency, Julius Jones will face execution on November 18.