Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones is a “human being” who deserves the “mercy” of state authorities, the girlfriend of the slain Paul Howell told an appeals board on Monday, arguing that there are enough doubts about how his high-profile murder case was investigated and prosecuted that Jones’s upcoming execution for the crime should be avoided.
Jones is set to be executed on 18 November for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, a businessman in the Oklahoma City suburbs, and has maintained his innocence for the last two decades, claiming police misconduct and a rushed, racist trial and rapidly winning support from the public in recent years. On Monday, he made a final appeal to Oklahoma parole authorities for clemency from Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt.
Connie Ellison, Howell’s girlfriend at the time of the slaying, said she willingly risked destroying her relationship with the Howell family to testify in Jones’s defence at the appeal.
“There are too many questions and too much doubt about Julius’s guilty to allow the state of Oklahoma to execute him in just over 2 weeks,” she told the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday morning, choking back emotions. “I have experienced both sides of this case, and I believe in my heart that Julius Jones does not deserve death at the hands of other human beings who might even have doubts of their own. It would be a catastrophic mistake to execute a man whose guilt is not conclusive. I believe that Paul Howell would not want that, and neither do I.”
(The Howell family disputes the nature of Ms Ellison and Mr Howell’s relationship.)
Ms Ellison spoke of how she’s not a member of the growing “Justice for Julius” movement, and doesn’t necessarily agree that Jones is an innocent man. Instead, she recounted an emotional visit to Jones on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary which she said convinced her that his execution wasn’t warranted.
“Julius is, at the very least, a human being .... Even though I know I would lose my treasured friendship with Megan [, Howell’s sister,] and the Howell family, I had to speak my truth today,” she said. “I deeply loved and cherished Paul Howell, and I am still tormented by his tragic death. I am here today to ask for mercy.”
The Howell family argues multiple courts, as well as their own firsthand experience, correctly pin Jones as the killer. More that than than that, the Howell family told the hearing room on Monday they feel as though they’re the victims of “gaslighting” from celebrities like Kim Kardashian and legions of activists who have gotten behind Jones, a man they say is akin to a sociopath for his lack of empathy.
“It’s hurtful and we are continually being re-victimised,” Megan Tobey, Paul Howell’s sister, told the appeals board. “We need this to end for our family. We need Julius Jones to be held responsible.”
“I looked over and saw Julius Jones walking up to the car,” Rachel Howell, Paul Howell’s daughter, told local news earlier this year. “I saw him walking up to the car, I remember waving. I’m a child, I don’t know what’s about to happen. He literally shot my dad in the head and did not say a word.”
The state of Oklahoma also defended its prosecution of Jones, noting that DNA evidence, multiple eye witnesses, and Jones lengthy and at times violent criminal record all suggest he committed the murder of Paul Howell.
“The narrative Jones and his defence team have fed the media is absolutely false,” an official from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office said on during the hearing. “The jury got it right. Clemency should be denied.”
Mr Jones’s public defenders, meanwhile, argue the jury couldn’t be further from right. They say that Jones has a solid alibi the night of the murder, and that jurors weren’t informed of key details, such as how the state’s case was built on the testimony of professional informants who themselves were involved in the underlying carjacking plot where the murder of Mr Howell took place.
“There is simply no way to look at all the evidence in this case and conclude that the system worked to produce a just result or his trial was fair,” attorney Amanda Bass said.
Jones is part of a sweeping lawsuit against the Oklahoma prison system, which claims that the state’s lethal injection execution protocol is unconstitutionally cruel, causing unnecessary pain and suffering before death. A federal court has set a trial in the suit for February of 2022, but the state of Oklahoma appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court for permission to begin executing inmates with lethal injection anyway, including those who are party to the suit.
Last week, the state resumed carrying out death sentences, with John Marion Grant marking the state’s first execution in six years, after a series of botched executions led to a temporary moratorium. Critics said Grant suffered visibly during the execution, vomiting and writhing in pain, proving the state hadn’t yet learned its lesson.
“Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol amounts to torture and human experimentation,” death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean said. “In almost 40 years working against the death penalty, I have never heard of a person vomiting while being executed.”
An Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesperson declined to answer in-depth questions about the execution from The Independent, but said, “Inmate Grant’s execution was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ protocols and without complication.”
Julius Jones is the next inmate set to be executed, and the Monday clemency hearing marks his final chance at appeal, having exhausted all other legal options. It will mark his first chance in two decades to speak directly to authorities in a legal setting, after his public defence team recommended he not take the stand during his original murder trial.
“It kind of just hurts my feelings that people can just dangle somebody’s life like that,” Jabee Williams, a Justice for Julius organiser and friend of the Jones family, told The Independent last week. “He’s going to be human again when he gets to speak. It’s hard for a person to commit an act of anything — violence, murder, death — to somebody you see as human, unless they’re evil. At that point, whenever he gets to speak, and they understand that he’s human, and that he has something to offer the world, I think that’s going to change the hearts of so many people.”
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.
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