(RNS) — Faith leaders are ramping up their support for an Oklahoma death row inmate as his clemency hearing nears.
Julius Jones, 40, was sentenced to death in 2002, but his advocates say a different person committed the crime in which a prominent Edmond, Oklahoma, businessman was killed during a carjacking. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is expected to consider Jones’ case at a March 8 commutation hearing.
On Monday (March 1), Jones’ lawyers released a video in which a man imprisoned in Arkansas said that a former fellow inmate told him he was responsible for the killing instead of Jones. His comments follow the signing of sworn affidavits by two other people who support Jones’ claim of innocence.
Jones’ family has said he was home with them when the killing occurred.
In an online event held the day after the video was released, Bishop T.D. Jakes of Dallas megachurch The Potter’s House urged that the new information about Jones’ case be considered.
“We’re not even asking for mercy; we’re just asking for justice,” Jakes said in the video conference call hosted by Values Partnerships that also included reality TV star Kim Kardashian West speaking in support of Jones. “We as people of faith have a responsibility to make sure that we have done everything we could. If Jesus acquitted the guilty, then surely he would advocate for the innocent.”
The Rev. Cece Jones-Davis, founder of the Justice for Julius Coalition in Oklahoma, helped lead a Feb. 25 march and prayer rally in which a crowd of more than 100 gathered outside a United Methodist church in Oklahoma City to sing, advocate and deliver boxes containing more than 6.2 million signatures on a petition to the parole board’s office in support of Jones.
At the prayer rally, a friend of Jones played a taped message from the inmate expressing gratitude for his supporters, The Oklahoman reported. “God has not forgotten me,” he said.
Jones-Davis said in a statement she believes Jones’ innocence is clear.
“Julius Jones did not murder Paul Howell,” she said. “It is unthinkable to proceed with this execution knowing that the real killer is out there and has confessed, on multiple occasions, to his crime.”
During the summer, Jakes wrote a letter to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and members of the state’s parole board expressing his concern “that the perpetrator of the crime is still at large.”
Others who have signed letters include the Black Ministerial Alliance of Oklahoma City and Christian leaders Tony Campolo, Lisa Sharon Harper, Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne, who joined Kristyn Komarnicki of Christians for Social Action in a request.
Sojourners founder Jim Wallis expressed his concern that “the risk of false testimony, the evidence of racism, and the finality of a death sentence” are reasons for a commutation for Jones, a Black man convicted in the death of a white man.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater urged the board to deny Jones’ application for commutation and said the prisoner is “fueling a media circus with outright lies,” The Associated Press reported.
In his 2019 commutation application, Jones declared his innocence.
“(A)s God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Paul Howell being shot and killed on July 28, 1999,” he wrote. “I have spent the past twenty years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness, and was not at.”
Depending on the outcome of the first commutation hearing, Jones’ case could advance to another stage that could lead to his sentence being commuted. If his application for commutation is denied, he is expected to receive a date of execution.