Can Oklahoma execute a man based on a racist trial?
This is the Death Penalty in America
Hi, Ari here — We should face how the death penalty operates in America. That’s today’s piece...
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It doesn’t “matter what happened”
Right now, a Black man is awaiting execution based on a trial that included reasonable doubt and documented racism.
That is a fact, and it reveals a lot about how the death penalty operates in America.
I could tell you many other facts about the case. In a journalistic report on the news, I’d list a battery of evidence, and quotes and clips, and try to offer all the context. But consider just one fact up front. In the trial that convicted this man, a juror on the mostly white jury said:
“They should just take this n----- out back, shoot him, and bury him under the jail. It didn’t matter what happened. This was a black man that was on trial for murder.”
A Fair Trial?
That quote was reported by another juror, to the judge and later, in public. But higher courts still declined to overturn the trial as unfair.
So the conviction stands. The man on death row is named Julius Jones.
There is also a brand new breakthrough in the case — a review board in Oklahoma just recommended clemency for Jones.
Clemency would halt his execution and change his sentence to life.
That now puts the final decision before the Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt.
He can decide whether to accept the conclusion of the parole board, and grant Jones clemency, or reject it and green light the execution.
This case also involves other people and details.
In 1999, Paul Howell was murdered in his driveway, right in front of his children. It was a brutal crime. His surviving family members support Jones’ conviction, and one of them was a witness to the murder. That is their assessment, and the justice system factors in views of witnesses and victims.
There was also evidence against Jones. Police found the murder weapon at his home, with a bandana linked to Jones’ DNA.
But there was evidence to support Jones’ case, which was not fully heard at trial. His former friend, Chris Jordan, cut a deal to avoid a possible life sentence. He agreed to be the prosecution’s witness against Jones. And while serving 15 years in prison for an unrelated crime, he reportedly confessed to murdering Howell in prison. Jones’ current lawyers also argue that Jordan planted the weapon at Jones’ home.
Jones’ family also offered an alibi that he was home with them on the night of the crime.
Much of that evidence was not presented in the original trial. Jones’ court-appointed lawyer did not even call any witnesses.
Jones was 19 at the time, on an academic scholarship at the University of Oklahoma.
In these stories, people fixate on who did it. Isn’t that what a trial is for? And many crime procedurals, shows and podcasts tap that kind of mystery.
The legal question is more narrow: Did the state prove this person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in a fair trial?
This case has many legally valid doubts, and smoking gun evidence of a racist, unfair trial.
That matters for this case — for justice and this man’s life — and also as a disturbing window into how the death penalty actually operates in America. If a case with this many problems and this much documented prejudice can still land a person on death row, what other injustices are being compounded by the state?
We know part of the answer. America does not operate a ‘death penalty for all.’ It operates a death penalty overwhelmingly used against the poor and minorities. And with a slanted scale about which lives matter.
Black Americans make up 13 percent of the American population and 41 percent of death row inmates.
The key factor in getting a death sentence is a conviction for killing a white person.
A conviction for killing a white victim does not double or triple the rate of a death sentence. It doesn’t make it 5 or ten times more likely… Black people convicted of killing a white person are executed at 17 times the rate of those convicted of killing other black Americans.
When we talk about what lives matter, these national facts give you a portrait of how the justice system continues to work and grind on. There is no uniform death penalty in America.
Governor Stitt has a decision to make about the evidence in this case and Julius Jones’ life.
America has an even larger one to make, about whether this system in this form is ever justified.
First of all, I think that death penalty should be abolished. In this day and age, in this 21st Century, death penalty should not exist anymore.
The juror’s racist statement and the mostly white jury selected already and clearly displayed bias in this trial. Julius Jones deserves a new and fair trial to re-examine everything that was overlooked and select a diverse jury. Like you mentioned, unfortunately, this kind of story happens way too often with African Americans…the justice system always treat the African Americans like second class citizens…like there are nobody…sad☹️
Thanks for shedding light on this, Ari.
I will continue to tune in to find out which direction this case will go.
He is a black man, what chance does he have of having a fair trial, it is sad