Julius Jones, far right, speaks to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, left, during his clemency hearing Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (Screenshot)

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3–1 today to recommend clemency for Julius Jones, who is scheduled to be executed in McAlester on Thursday, Nov. 18. The board’s vote marks its second such recommendation for a change in sentence from death to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and it again puts the ultimate decision in the hands of Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Jones, who is on death row for the 1999 murder of Edmond resident Paul Howell, appeared in front of the board to plead his case for the first time since his conviction, saying he was not at the scene of the murder and did not hear of it until the next morning on the news.

Voting in favor of clemency and recommending Jones’ sentence be commuted to life with the possibility for parole were board Chairman Adam Luck, Vice Chairwoman Kelly Doyle and member Larry Morris.

“This board, even though it may or may not be our role to determine whether or not someone is guilty or innocent, we do have the authority to make a recommendation to the governor based on our own opinions on whether this man is deserving of mercy and some leniency in his sentencing,” Morris said, explaining his vote. “At this point, I am convinced he is deserving of that.”

Former prosecutor Richard Smothermon voted against clemency and pastor Scott Willams recused himself owing to professional connections with a woman representing Jones, as he did in Jones’ commutation hearing.

“In my opinion, to believe in Mr. Jones’ theory of the case, you have to disbelieve every other piece of evidence in the case,” Smotherman said before casting his vote. “Everything. Law enforcement. Independent witnesses. Other witnesses. The physical evidence. And you have to believe his version over every other piece of evidence, and I’m very concerned that’s a near impossibility.”

The board’s recommendation now goes to Stitt, who has appointed Luck, Doyle and Williams to the board during his time in office. The first-term governor will decide whether to change Jones’ sentence in any manner. In late September, Stitt declined the board’s commutation recommendation because he felt that the clemency hearing would offer a more thorough discussion of the situation.

Jones, supporters plead for clemency

Attorney Amanda Bass speaks to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board during the clemency hearing for death-row inmate Julius Jones on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (Screenshot)

Jones, who appeared at the hearing via video link, acknowledged his criminal past but said he was innocent of Howell’s murder and around the “wrong company” at the time.

He said he came into possession of the car Howell was shot in only after the killing and that he got the car from his friend, Christopher Jordan, who he claims was responsible for the carjacking and the murder. Jones said at Monday’s hearing that it was “stupid of me” to not go to the police at the time.

“I am not the person responsible for taking Mr. Howell’s life,” Jones said. “I was not involved during this robbery, I was not present during this robbery, and I did not know anyone had been killed at the time of the murder.”

Jones’ case has attracted national and celebrity attention and was the subject of the 2018 docu-series The Last Defense, which questioned his conviction. The documentary has been criticized by members of the Howell family and prosecutors, who say it presented inaccurate and incomplete information.

Also speaking in front of the board on Jones’ behalf Monday were attorney Amanda Bass, former Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission member Christy Sheppard, and the cousin of a murder victim in a case where two men were wrongfully convicted. Connie Ellison, a friend of Paul Howell, also spoke.

“There is simply no way to look at all the evidence in this case and have any confidence that the system worked to produce a just result, or that Julius’ trial was fair,” Bass said.

Ellison said she was appearing because she believed there was too much doubt in the case to send Jones to death, although she said she knew her decision to speak would ruin her relationship with the Howell family.

“I deeply loved and cherished Paul Howell. And I’m still tormented by his tragic death,” Ellison said. “But I’m here to ask for mercy. There are too many questions and too much doubt about Julius’ guilt to allow the state of Oklahoma to execute him in just over two weeks. I feel that I wouldn’t want that and neither would Paul Howell.”

Prosecutors, Howell family maintain Jones is guilty

Paul Howell family
Flanked by other family members, Paul Howell’s daughter, Rachel, addresses the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (Screenshot)

Jennifer Craft and Caroline Hunt from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office presented court documents and evidence used in the murder trial to support Jones’ conviction and why his death sentence should be carried out.

Craft spoke about Jones’ prior criminal charges — such as multiple robberies and other carjackings — and citations while on death row.

“It is Mr. Jones who was a career violent criminal,” Craft said. “The jury was right. It is Jones that should have clemency denied.”

Members of Howell’s family discussed their perspective about the Jones case. Speaking were brother Brian Howell, daughter Rachel Howell and sister Megan Tobey.

“This isn’t about the death penalty,” Tobey said. “It’s about the truth, the facts and the evidence in this case.”

Tobey had testified during the murder trial that the shooter appeared to have hair resembling Jones’s haircut, a particular point of contention for Jones and his attorneys. A bandana featuring Jones’ DNA was also found hidden in his family’s house with the murder weapon.

“DNA doesn’t lie, and Amanda Bass doesn’t know what I saw that night,” Tobey said.

During his remarks, Brian Howell asked board members to state what doubts they have that make them think Jones did not murder his brother. During their explanations of their votes, board members did not specify their doubts, but rather questioned the appropriateness of Jones’ death sentence.

Paul Howell’s niece, Erin Howell, said her family’s concerns have fallen on deaf ears “that have been gaslighted by celebrities, political and professional advancement and the outright distortion of the truth.”

“Julius Jones is still a threat to society,” she said. “Jones has shown no remorse for action in Paul’s murder case.”

Carly Atchison, spokeswoman for Stitt, said the governor “is aware of the Pardon and Parole Board’s vote today.”

“Our office will not offer further comment until the governor has made a final decision,” Atchison said.

(Correction: This article was updated at 2:40 p.m. Monday, Nov. 1, to correct identification references to members of Paul Howell’s family. NonDoc regrets the error.)