I've always been aware of systematic racism in the United States. However, when I thought of American racism and heard of incidents such as Michael Brown or racism in sentencing or racial slurs, it's easy to think, "that's awful" and move on. It's easy to disassociate racism with the impact it has on real people. That was until I heard about Julius Jones.
Julius Jones was a nineteen-year-old University of Oklahoma student, on a scholarship for academic achievement. He is currently on death row serving a sentence for a murder he did not commit. In 2002, Julius was convicted for the murder of Paul Howell in 1999, a business owner in Edmond, Oklahoma. Julius has currently been on death row for seventeen years. However, there are so many things wrong with this case, that suggests Julius is innocent.
I first heard about this case through the last defence and was disgusted when I heard about the circumstances that led to his conviction.
1) Julius had inadequate representation in his trial. His lawyers did not have any experience on a death penalty trial, they did not allow him to take the stand, they did not allow his family to testify although they claimed he was with them at the time of the murder, providing an alibi. Evidently, they were inexperienced, did not have his best interest at heart and their atrocious performance and lack of adequate representation led to his conviction.
2) There is no evidence to suggest that one of the jurors used the 'N word' as a racial slur while on the jury. Given that Julius is a black man charged with the murder of a middle-class white man, this case was already racially charged. However, to allow a racist juror violates the sixth amendment that states defendants have the right to an 'impartial jury of the State and district '. This demonstrates how bias within the jury that could have led to his conviction.
3) The one eye witness of the case claimed that the perpetrator had hair sticking out of the bandana they were wearing. However, Julius had short hair and therefore did not fit the description of the one eyewitness. Julius' defence also failed to show a photograph taken of Julius a few days prior to the murder showing his short hair.
4) Julius' friend, Christopher Jordan testified against him, a man who conveniently has a similar hairstyle to the one described by the witness. In his statement, thee are six inconsistent statements. Therefore, he should have never been credited as a witness. Furthermore, the jury was informed he would be serving 30 years to life but was released in 2014. This evidences he must have had a deal for his testimony, and of course, Julius' useless defence conveniently did not cross-examine Mr Jordan about the events that took place or the inconsistencies in his statement. Another witness, Ladell King, was never prosecuted for the murder.
5) This case was highly racialized from the beginning. A black man accused of murdering a white man in America is already a difficult case to prove innocence. However, all black jurors bar one was excluded because of criminal histories and one police officer even said to Julius before handcuffs were placed on him, "run N-word, I dare you."
There is already evidence of racial bias in America's prison system, for example, statistics exhibit that 13.2% of the US population is black Americans, however, they constitute 41.7% of death row population, 48.3% of life sentences and 56.4% of life sentencing without parole. In Oklahoma alone, statistics indicate that in 2010, the number of blacks incarcerated by 100,000 was 3796 in comparison to the lowest ethnic group of whites at a rate of 767 per 100,000. Furthermore, the Sentencing Project states that in Oklahoma, 1 in 15 adult black men are incarcerated, compared to a national average of 1 in 16.
Except for the many flaws in this individual case alone, without racial bias, we cannot separate racial bias in the system as a whole to racism within this case.
In my prison industrial complex class, we were able to speak to Julius from death row via phone call. Julius is kind, intelligent, gracious and composed. He has so much love and patience despite what has happened to him.
Julius stated that he just wanted people to know that he was innocent, that he did not kill that man. He also said he had no ill will against the victim's family, he hopes that people pray for them and they find the truth. He also discussed that to prevent crime, we need to realize why people commit crimes because they are hurt and in poverty and that the system needs to focus more on rehabilitation than retribution.
He also told us what death row is really like. He isn't allowed human contact, he hasn't been able to touch his mother or father for seventeen years. He has seen the light but not the sun, he has not seen grass. He is shackled everywhere he goes, and is supposed to be provided with a library but has not been given one, he relies on books sent to him.
The Supreme Court has denied hearing his case, his only chance now is to be granted clemency from the governor. The Justice for Julius movement is currently trying to get that, there is a petition that you can sign to help. Oklahoma has currently paused executions due to a botched execution in 2014. This is because pharmaceuticals have started to refuse to provide drugs for the lethal injection as they no longer wish to be associated with the death penalty. Oklahoma is working on resuming executions using nitrogen gas. They hope to return by the end of this year, if they do, Julius is one of the sixteen inmates eligible for execution.
When asked how he stays positive, he says that he was angry for a long time, until he realized he was only hurting himself. He said, "you need to be the change you want to see". So, please, help us create that change.
To learn more, here is the link for the Justice for Julius movement: http://justiceforjulius.com/
The last defence: https://abc.go.com/shows/the-last-defense/episode-guide
To sign the petition to attempt to grant clemency: https://www.change.org/p/documented-by-academy-award-winner-viola-davis-julius-tennon-julius-jones-life-hangs-in-the-balance-of-the-oklahoma-death-row-watch-the-last-defense-and-sign-the-petition-help-us-get-julius-jones-a-fair-opportunity-at-justice