For someone who is unaware of Justice for Julius Jones, what is the campaign about?
Julius Jones is one of 47 people currently on death row in Oklahoma, wrongly convicted for the July 1999 murder of a white Oklahoma businessman by the name of Paul Howard, who lived in Edmond, Oklahoma- a suburb of Oklahoma City. I'm not sure if you're familiar at all with the term 'white flight,' but years prior to the crime you have a lot of white people living in Oklahoma City, so as more black people moved in, the white people left and moved into the suburbs. On that night of July 22, 1999, the victim, his two daughters, and his sister arrived at the victim's parents home where he and his daughters had been living. As they pulled into the driveway, a man approached the victim and demanded the keys to the suburban [the car]. I'm not sure if there was a struggle but he ended up shooting the victim in order to get the suburban. The sister got a look at the person who asked for the suburban, not a clear look, but described him as a young, black man wearing a red bandana over his face, a white shirt, and a stocking cap. She was not able to identify the shooter's face because it was covered, but she did say that the shooter had an inch of hair sticking out under the stocking cap. Julius is pinpointed for the murder by his high school friend Chris Jordan and another guy named Ladell King, who was known for stealing cars. Chris, along with Julius, was charged with felony-murder and Chris led police to Julius' parent home where he stated they would find the red bandana and gun. Later it would become clear that Chris had planted the items there after asking to spend the night at Julius' parent's home when he claimed he was locked out of his grandmother's home. Julius was arrested and charged with the murder of Paul Howell. The DA (district attorney) Bob Macy, in racially charged language, quickly announced that he would seek the death penalty against Julius. There was no real evidence connecting Julius to the murder. Attorneys didn't call for his witness testimony, which would put him miles away from the murder. He was actually with his family as he had just celebrated his birthday.
A bit more about Julius, for background: He was an honor student, graduating number 2 out of 143 students in his senior class. He attended OU (University of Oklahoma) on an academic scholarship, he also played basketball for OU. He was a talented player who could've possibly gone into the NBA. Either way, he had a very bright future. It's a matter of public record that he had gotten into trouble. He had a prior record, one for shoplifting. During college, a number of us did things we weren't proud of- everyone wanted nice things, nice clothes and shoes to wear on campus and to parties, so it wasn't uncommon for us to partake in petty shoplifting. It happens. But being a shoplifter doesn't automatically make you a murderer. And Julius is the first to admit that it was wrong, and it was a part of his past.
I identified with Julius because he and I are the same age, we started college at the same time, he was at OU, I was at Arkansas State, and although he was in Oklahoma and I was in Arkansas, our paths were very similar. Little Rock (Arkansas) is a lot like Oklahoma City. Our backgrounds were similar-we both grew up in a religious, two-parent household so I totally identified with him. Julius could have been me or one of my friends.
If you watch the docu-series, the Last Defence, the show tells the story in detail. The public defenders are on the programme, one had just graduated law school and Julius' case, a capital murder case, was her first case right after passing the bar exam. That is unheard of. They both admit they weren't experienced in capital cases, they both admit they did wrong by Julius. The most explosive issues was one of the jurors heard another say "we might as well take this n****r out back and bury him." It is a very hurtful word and has been used against black people for centuries in keeping them oppressed and reminds them of what white people feel their position is. The judge was informed by another juror who heard the racist remark, but the juror was allowed to remain on the jury. Julius' attorneys petitioned to the Supreme Court, arguing that the judge's failure to remove the juror violated Julius' constitutional rights, and shockingly they have declined to hear his case. With that, all of his appeals are exhausted.
There has been an announcement that his attorneys are seeking clemency with the pardon and parole board, as there are three new people on the board who could be sympathetic to Julius. We are trying to get them to understand that we execute people unfairly. We have had people writing the governor of Oklahoma (Kevin Stitt), and soon we will expand the letter writing campaign to the parole board. We have templates we can email out to anyone who is interested in helping us, or you can write to the Governor on your own. There's so much that's wrong with this case, the DA's office needs to open their hearts and minds, and understand they made a mistake. And you'll see that all over the country. A lot of DA's won't want to admit that they got it wrong. Some purposely commit Brady violations, where they withhold exculpatory evidence that proves a certain defendant didn't commit a crime. In Julius' case they are refusing to release information to us because they know they are hiding something.
In regard to the red bandana I mentioned earlier, the Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has announced that the DNA doesn't exclude Julius, however, his attorney Dale Baich has said the results had DNA profiles from three or more males, conceding that one was from Julius but arguing that it was only a partial profile. According to Baich: "DNA has three markers and it was consistent with Julius only seven" he argued, adding "there is other male DNA on there as well but were not able to determine whose DNA that is." So, it didn't exclude him but didn't say this is Julius. Baich also pointed to a detail that has been disregarded in the results, "what's significant is that the stain on the bandana is not saliva…our theory was that the shooter had the bandana over his face and that stain should be saliva, so now, we don't even know if that bandana that was found in Julius' attic as the same one worn by the shooter."
So much is obviously wrong with this case, and the fact that he sits on death row is such a travesty of justice. So many people connect to Julius and so many people rally around him, people talk, and people have watched the Last Defence, you automatically believe him and identify with him, even though you're not a young black male, you automatically sympathize and think this could be me.
When I was in Oklahoma I was shocked because of the racism, when I was at OU there was two instances of black face in a week. In England you have freedom of speech but when it crosses a line its in sighting racial hatred but there was no consequence [for the blackface].
It's crazy in states like Oklahoma, Mississippi, and of course here and Arkansas, where I'm from. Those states are right together. In Oklahoma, there's still what is called sundown towns, where if you are of colour, particularly an African American, and the sun is going down, you need to get off the streets because there is no telling what might happen to you.
There have been incidences of lynching, not hanging from trees but in one in particular instance, they killed two black boys and dumped their bodies in a river in Oklahoma. In Tulsa, In the 1920s race riots, they took out the whole area known as "Black Wall Street," because there was so much money there. Many of the areas blacks had more money than whites. They were very successful. Unfortunately, many people don't want to talk about this, but Oklahoma is known for its racism.
What attracted you to the Julius Jones campaign?
I watched the docuseries the Last Defence, it premiered over the summer of 2018, Viola Davis, an American actress, she and her husband are producers of the show and I remember watching it. I watched the first episode and was immediately outraged. As I mentioned before, we are the same age and background, our families are very familiar, very similar, and I can remember being a student at Arkansas University, doing the same stupid young girl stuff, young kid stuff, so I can identify with him on that level. I'm familiar with Oklahoma City, I've been there once or twice before, I have a cousin that lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and one in Tulsa, and a cousin that died in the Oklahoma City bombing many years ago.
At the time I lived in Atlanta, Georgia and had just finished law school the year prior, and after watching the first episode I knew I was going to write him. I waited until the last episode of premiered and wrote to him and he wrote back quickly, and he ended up calling and we struck up a friendship. I became really close with his sister and Jimmy, and I'll be going there next week to see him on death row. I got connected with Cece Jones Davis, who spearheaded the Julius Jones Awareness Month last November. Before law school, I was a publicist. I worked with all the rappers in Atlanta I've managed social media accounts, so I took on the branding and social media. We had people signing the petition to the Governor that initially had about 600 signatures when we started, and we've grown it to almost 35,000. It's taken off, my goal is to raise even more awareness for his case and keep people talking about him.
One campaign that we did was talking about the District Attorney Bob Macy and all of the people he put on death row and wrongly incarcerated. It was known that Macy would do whatever it took to win, including making inflammatory remarks and withholding evidence. Twenty-three of his capital convictions relied heavily on the testimony of Joyce Gilchrist, a disgraced police chemist who did not properly do her job. An internal police investigation discovered that evidence in many of Gilchrist's major cases was missing, along with three years of her blood analysis files. Almost half of Macy's death row convictions have been overturned. So being a student of law, it enraged me and I had to do something. All of us working on the Julius Jones campaign are very affected by it, there are times where I can't sleep.
I'm honoured to be able to help and now his family and friends and be a part of this movement because I'm hoping it has ripple effects on the whole criminal justice system. When Julius comes home there's a lot of work he wants to do in next stage of his life, and giving back and helping kids to make better choices so there's a lot more for him and I'm happy to be able to help out with that.
When I spoke to Julius, the one thing that made an impact on me was how humble he was, his intelligence and his grace. Its important for people to know Julius is more than just 'that guy on death row'. He was an academic, he's kind, he's caring. So how would you best describe Julius?
He's so honest. There's a pureness about him. A lot of us have issues we are dealing with and trauma, but we have our full lives and careers. I mean, I have three kids. There's so much on my plate that I don't always focus on the incomplete parts of me or the trauma. If you can imagine having 20 years to focus on your flaws or the trauma, Julius has had time to think about that and contemplate, and it's made him a better man. I almost feel bad about talking to things that I'm dealing with, but he has a way of giving you a different perspective. He always says as long as you wake up in the morning that's another chance to make things right and make it better. He has this view of humanity and loving one another and recognizing that racism and racist ideas are a trick by those in power to keep us, the ones that aren't rich, at each other's necks.
I sent him a book, it's a very good book called Stamped From the Beginning, the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Julius read that book and it has been influential for a lot of his ideas and way of thinking in regard to unity and us coming together to create a better world for ourselves and generations to come afterward.
His take on life is very unique because he's untainted. We are going about our day and living life, we formulate these ideas and opinions based on interactions and social media and influences, but he doesn't have that and he sees things for what they are without those biases and influences. He is able to articulate his thoughts on society in a way that's really like Dr. Martin Luther King. His views and ideas are very surprising, but there is another side where he's hurting so much on the inside and most people don't get to see that Julius. Twenty years alone and to ones' self is very tough. There is no human touch, no human connection. When his family and other loved ones come to visit him, they are not allowed to touch him, he's on the other side of the glass. That's what I hate about the system and their ideas about punishment when the goal should be rehabilitation and restoring these people. They should have his visits set up where people can have personal contact.
So that's basically who Julius is, he is a warrior of the people, the voice of the underdog. Whenever he comes home he's going to be so powerful because of what he went through.
Katrina Baker, J.D.
Social Media Manager for Justice for Julius
It's on Hulu - Last Defense if you need social media
Facebook: Justice For Julius