UPDATE: Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones’s death sentence to life without parole just hours before Jones was scheduled to be executed for a murder that he says he did not commit. Read more about the Justice for Julius movement here.
In 2002, a nearly all-white jury sentenced Julius Darius Jones to death for the 1999 carjacking and murder of Paul Howell, a white businessman in Edmond, Okla. At the time, Jones was a college student, attending the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship. For the past 22 years, he and his family have maintained his innocence. The Jones family contends Julius couldn’t have killed Howell, because he was celebrating his 19th birthday with them at their home at the time of the murder. Jones’s attorneys never presented this alibi during the trial or called his family to the stand. Jones also does not match a witness’s description of the killer. A person, Christopher Jordan, who does match that description, said he was only the getaway driver and testified against Jones; Jordan received just a 15-year sentence. And three people who have been incarcerated with Jordan have said in sworn affidavits that Jordan admitted that he murdered Howell and framed Jones.
Despite its current high profile, the case languished until June 2019, when an ABC docuseries, The Last Defense, brought fresh attention to the story. Kim Kardashian and NFL quarterback Baker Mayfield have both spoken out in support of Jones. On November 1, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board convened a clemency hearing, and in a 3 to 1 vote the board recommended that Governor Kevin Stitt commute Jones’s death sentence. The governor has so far ignored their advice, and if Stitt does not rescind the execution order, Jones will be put to death today. If that happens, Jones will be the second person executed by the state since two botched executions in 2015.
On November 13, I spoke with Jones. During our conversation, he read me a poem about his childhood idol Kobe Bryant that he wrote after talking with the formerly incarcerated painter Fulton Washington (who was working on a memorial portrait of Bryant) on a July telephone call that I had arranged. With Jones’s permission, I am sharing his poem below. It’s evidence of the artistry of a self-taught poet and of his heart and spirit. Over the last three years, I have come to admire Jones for his passion for history, his compassion for young people, and most especially his resilience. He has fought remarkably for his freedom. I am honored to call him a friend. I and the more than 6 million people who have signed the Justice for Julius campaign petition call on Stitt to do the right thing and call off Jones’s execution today.
—Karlos K. Hill
Kobe Bean Bryant
Born in Philly by a stone’s throw
8-23-78 Jellybean’s burgeoning Cicero
…Ummm… The heights he could go
#33, in lower Merion Bordeaux
His own parking space and Brandy to prom yo!
Adidas & $3.5M B4 the tassel hit the flooo
The new Krush of the Lake Show
Tho they would need Phil, The Triangle Pro
Horry, Me & Shaq and a-baaaad-negro
I mean the Black Mamba, sooo sub-zero
The fall, the defeat… in Colla-Rah-Dough
He wouldn’t??? Nah!! Whoa… +_+
Dearest Vanessa, that must’ve been a wicked elbow
But 4 karats in pink to start his new quarto
BC what don’t kill a man makes us grow
Then 2 more rings to cement the halo
He drop’d 80 and 1ne in Jan. ’06 in Toronto
Natalia, Gianna, Bianka & Capri…
Planting seeds to nourish what we know
Saying Farewell after Achilles’ blow
Here’s 60 for retirements deco
Even an Oscar to dad the portfolio
R.I.P. Gigi, the Mambacita Van Gogh
Rest in Power Kobe, we 4ever love you bro…