Poll Finds Majority Support Commutation of Death Row Prisoner Julius Jones

By Alexander Ramirez and Esme Lipton

OKLAHOMA – In a survey of 500 registered voters conducted in Oklahoma, 60 percent of respondents who said they knew of death-row prisoner Julius Jones believed his sentence should be reduced.

These results match another survey conducted during December of last year, with the only difference being that many more people know Jones’ case now.

Jones was convicted at trial for allegedly shooting and killing Paul Howell in 1999, and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. But Jones continues to claim his innocence.

According to the “Justice for Julius” website, the case involved numerous examples of racial discrimination, including an officer using a racial slur while arresting Jones, and the removal of all but one prospective Black juror.

The website also claims that Jones’ co-defendant matched the eye-witness description of the shooter who killed Howell, but plead guilty and acted as a key witness against Jones in exchange for shorter sentencing. After serving 15 years, the co-defendant is now a free man.

According to Oklahoma court documents provided by the website, Jones does have prior felony convictions, but none are violent. This fact is included in a list of other mitigating factors listed by the jury of Jones’ case that includes Jones’ family, religious beliefs, morals, and strong history in school.

As reflected by the “Justice for Julius” website, many people are advocating for Jones’ sentence to be commuted; the survey was conducted by Oklahoma polling firm, Amber Integrated, which lists those who know about Jones’ case at 35 percent.

Of those respondents, 47 percent believed that he may be innocent, 21.4 percent believed he is not, and 31.7 percent either did not know or refused to answer.

Amber Integrated posed another question to survey participants concerning Jones’ case: “Do you think the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Governor Kevin Stitt should commute Julius Jones’ sentence to something other than death?”

The majority of those who responded believed Jones’ sentence ought to be commuted. More specifically, “59.6 percent of respondents answered “yes,”[…]; 23.2 percent said “no”; and 17.3 percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.”

Before he was sentenced, Jones was an accomplished undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma and captain of his high school basketball team. Many question the influence of racism in this case, specifically involving the police and prosecution system.

The state of Oklahoma has a long and extensive history of wrongdoing in death-penalty cases; according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), “Oklahoma County has the fourth highest number of people exonerated from wrongful capital convictions and death sentences of any county in the country.”

In fact, since 1976, Oklahoma county has executed 41 prisoners, as stated by the DPIC, and Oklahoma City District Attorney Robert Macy is responsible for sending 54 people to death row.

The poll reflects that 65 percent of African-American participants and 44.5 percent of white participants believe Jones may have been wrongly convicted.

However, most respondents were in support of commutation across all demographics: as stated on the Death Penalty Information Center website, “71.9 percent of Black respondents and 57.5 percent of White respondents favor taking Jones off death row.”

The poll also found that “Democrats (73.4 percent) and Independents (64.8 percent) said they favored commutation, as well as pluralities of Republicans (49.5 percent) and Libertarians (40.7 percent).”

The Pardon and Parole Board recently voted to extend Jones’ second-stage commutation hearing, which will take place Sept. 13.

About The Author

Alexander Ramirez is a third-year Political Science major at the University of California, Davis. He hopes to hone his writing skills in preparation for the inevitable time of graduation.

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