Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Thanks for sticking with us here on The Takeaway. Now, it's time to get an update on the story we've been following here on the show. The case of Julius Jones. Jones was convicted in 1999 of murdering Paul Howell, a businessman in Oklahoma. After his conviction, he was sentenced to death. The death penalty in the state of Oklahoma has been under a moratorium because several individuals suffered pain and anguish during execution. At the same time, attorneys and advocates have reviewed Julius Jones's conviction and found multiple prosecutorial inconsistencies and inadequate defense counsel.
Another assailant has even indicated that he, not Jones, is responsible for the murder. After finally having an opportunity to hear about these issues, the Oklahoma Parole and Pardon Board voted last month to recommend that Jones's sentence be commuted from a death sentence to a life sentence with a possibility of parole. The recommendation is just that, it's a recommendation. The final decision rests with the Oklahoma Governor, Kevin Stitt. Before the governor made a decision about commuting the sentence, this happened.
News Anchor 1: The clock is now taking louder than ever for Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones.
News Anchor 2: Today, The Court of Criminal Appeals set the convicted killer's execution date for November 18th.
Melissa: Ultimately, Governor Stitt decided against accepting the Committee's recommendation for commutation. Instead, he feels that a clemency hearing is more appropriate. The execution date for Julius Jones is still set for November 18th. Here with me is Reverend Cece Jones-Davis, the campaign founder and director of Justice for Julius. Cece, welcome back.
Cece Jones-Davis: Thank you, Melissa, so much for having us. Thank you.
Melissa: Also with us is Antoinette Jones, the sister of Julius Jones. Antoinette, welcome.
Antoinette Jones: Thank you for having me.
Melissa: Antoinette, can I start with you? I'm wondering how you and the rest of the family are feeling right now.
Antoinette: I'll say for myself very drained at times, but since we've been having prayer vigils in the evening. We've started on October the 1st and we're doing them all the way through October the 15th. Since we've been having those prayer vigils in the evening time at 6:00, I've been feeling rejuvenated, fueled, but it's very draining. Then, for the governor to say that he's not going to adopt the recommendation from the Pardon and Parole Board, which was a three to one vote it was, it was hurtful, but I had to understand his point as a leader and that he wants to make sure that the process is correct because he's under attack along with the Pardon and Parole Board from our District Attorney, Mr. David Prater. I can understand he wants to make sure the process is correct. That's why he would say it wouldn't be an appropriate venue for a death row case.
Melissa: Okay. Cece, can you take us through this a bit? I know even for those of us in media who are following it, this question of commutation versus clemency versus what exactly is the power of the governor here? Can you just help us to understand what is on the table right now and why there is an execution date set?
Cece: Yes. I can do my best with this but I will admit even from the inside, it's very confusing. The Pardon and Parole Board voted back in March to give Julius a commutation hearing because they understood that there were some issues that were very troubling about his case. That commutation hearing was scheduled for September 13th and that's what we just came from last month with the three-to-one vote that Antoinette just referenced. A commutation hearing and a clemency hearing are basically the same in practice and in process. The difference is that for a commutation hearing, an execution date has not been set, and that's why this campaign has worked really hard to get Julius to a commutation hearing because we believe that the merits of his case needed to be heard and understood without the weight of an execution date hanging over his head.
However, we have that commutation hearing again. They voted three-to-one that Julius's sentence should be commuted to life with the possibility of parole because of the many doubts to the evidence that came forth. After that, the state did issue a November 18th execution date. I think because of the pressure, the governor decided to wait to a clemency hearing to give his final decision and the clemency hearing is offered to every death row inmate automatically once they are three weeks out from an execution date. You can understand why we would have wanted a commutation as opposed to a clemency. The governor is cutting it really close here. It makes us all very nervous, but we pray and believe that this can still have a really good outcome for Julius
Melissa: Now, Cece, will Julius's case need to be presented in the same way or at the three-week out date, is it simply that the governor can make a decision to grant the clemency?
Cece: Yes, it will need to be presented again to the same Pardon and Parole Board members, the same body, unless the DA is successful in blowing up this board like he tried to do for the commutation hearing. He's definitely after them now since he knows that they voted three-to-one the first time. They had to go back through the process of presenting the case. The prosecution has time to present their case. The victim's family has time to speak. Then, they deliberate and they vote again and they send it back to the governor's office. This time, it's not called a commutation hearing, it's called a clemency hearing. That's the only difference along with the dreadful reality that that execution date is hanging over Julius's head
Melissa: Antoinette, there are a lot of media stories around your brother, around the case, but not really about him. Can you tell us about Julius? Who is your brother? What is he
Antoinette: Man, Julius is an exceptional person. He's my greatest supporter. He never wants to see you cry. He always tries to make sure that any situation that might have come up growing up where we all had disagreements, he's the one person that's going to make sure there's no drama. He's the peacemaker out of all three of us. We have an older brother named Antonio. Growing up, Julius has always tried to, not enforce, but in a cool way like siblings do make education fun.
I had an issue with reading, an issue with math, so my brother Julius was helping me read one time and he was noticing that I had a little mild case of dyslexia. He brought that to my parents' attention and when it came time to go to school, that helped the teachers be able to help me better. Just little things like that. If I wasn't hitting the ball real good in tee-ball, we would go out and practice after practice, and he just made things fun. He broke down things really good like my mother and my father do.
Growing up with him, it was cool. Then, there was the instance where I believe I was 10, Julius took me to the fair and he was like, "I'm going to let you go play with your friends, stuff like that, and I'm going to let you be independent." I'm thinking, "Oh, cool. He's going to let me hang with my friends." Every so often I would look up and I would feel him and I would see he wasn't too far from me. He made it seem like I was being independent, but he's always there. Man, he's a person that would literally give the shirt off his back.
There were times where we would go to the gym to play pickup ball, which is for basketball. There were times where people needed a t-shirt or extra pair of shorts or even shoes, and without question, he would just go get them. If I could tell anybody anything, my brother has always been a person to make sure that I stay on my grades, make sure that I let my yes be my yes, my no, no. Always watch the company you keep. If I didn't learn anything else from my brother's predicament was to always watch the company you keep and that you can't help everybody. Everybody's not for you. Everybody's not your friend
Melissa: Antoinette, the last question for you here is just how's your brother's spirit right now? How is he doing?
Antoinette: I would say that spiritually he is in a good place. He does not like his situation, what he's getting ready to go through, what he has been through, and there is nothing but the Grace of God. He is so ready to talk. For the first time since 22 years, he will be able to talk on his own behalf. That's just something that-- I'm excited, but I'm also calm. I understand it's still not over. Just like when the Pardon and Parole Board voted three-to-one, I knew it was still not over. It was only the beginning.
He's in a good place spiritually. He was a little confused and hurt and frustrated especially when he heard the news about the governor, but then, he said, "Well, let's fight.'' He said he wants to hear me. I'm going to speak and I'm glad that I'm getting the chance to speak on my own behalf and he told us to keep fighting out here, not to worry, not worry over him, not to worry for him, but to think greatness over him, think positive for a positive outcome.
Melissa: Cece, what is the next date? What are we looking towards?
Cece: Yes. October the 26th is Julius's clemency hearing. That's three weeks away from November 18th, the execution date, and we want to invite everybody to come to OKC to be a part of this really historic, important moment. Before all of that, Julius goes on deathwatch on Friday, which is October the 15th, where all of his belongings will be packed up, he will only be able to carry with him a Bible, some paper, a pen, and legal documents, and he will be housed in the death chamber area. He will be in a cell four doors down from the death chamber, and every week that he is not granted clemency, he moves down a door until he's right there in front of the death chamber.
That's by Oklahoma's statute that death row inmates who have an execution date goes on deathwatch 35 days prior to their execution date. He'll have bright light on him 24/7, he'll have a live guard monitoring his food and water intake, and it really is a process to break someone down mentally to make them palatable to their death. We just want people to pray for Julius, pray for the Jones family and take action. Help us here because we've done everything that we can and just things like the system has been hell-bent on destroying this man, but we still have a lot of faith in God and we have a lot of faith and community, and so we press forward.
Melissa: Reverend Cece Jones-Davis is the campaign founder and director of Justice for Julius, and Antoinette Jones is the loving sister of Julius Jones. Thank you both for joining us today.
Cece: Thank you so much for having us.
Antoinette: Thank you for having us.
[00:12:23] [END OF AUDIO]
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