Mr. Jones was an Honors Student and Athlete with a Promising Future
At the time of the crime for which Mr. Jones was convicted, he was three days into his 19th year and was a student at the University of Oklahoma on an academic scholarship. He was 21 years old when he was convicted and sentenced to death. In high school, Mr. Jones was a member of the National Honor Society and graduated from John Marshall High School with a class rank of 12 out of 143. He was co-captain of his football, basketball, and track teams. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at p. 3.)
While at John Marshall, Mr. Jones developed a friendship with the man who eventually accused him of murder and whose testimony played a key role in his conviction and sentence of death.
The Likely Perpetrators Go Free While Mr. Jones Faces Execution
In 1999, Paul Howell was shot and killed in Edmond, Oklahoma during the theft of his SUV. The victim’s sister, who was a passenger in the vehicle and witnessed the shooting, testified that the shooter had approximately a half-inch of hair sticking out from underneath a stocking cap. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 10-11.)
The witness’s physical description of the man who shot her brother fit that of Mr. Jones’ friend, Christopher Jordan, who was one of the prosecution’s main witnesses against Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones’ attorneys, who were public defenders with no capital trial experience, failed to show the jury a photograph of Mr. Jones, taken a few days before the shooting, illustrating that Mr. Jones’ had low, crew-cut hair and proving that he could not be the person who the victim’s sister described. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 10-11.)
Mr. Jones’ attorneys failed to cross examine Mr. Jordan on the six different and inconsistent statements he gave to the police after his arrest. They also failed to put on evidence showing that Mr. Jordan was likely the actual shooter and was testifying against Mr. Jones to avoid the death penalty. In fact, Mr. Jones’ trial attorneys did not put on a single witness to testify during the guilt-innocence phase of his trial. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at p. 10-11.)
Mr. Jones’ Jury Never Learned the Full Extent of the Benefits that the State’s Three Witnesses Received in Exchange for Their Testimony
The jury never heard the full extent of the benefits that the three main witnesses against Mr. Jones received as a result of their testimony. Incredibly, Mr. Jordan was released in 2014, after serving only 15 years, despite the fact that the prosecution told jurors that he was facing 30 years to a lifetime of incarceration for his role in the crime.
Second, jurors may not have known that Ladell King, another key witness against Mr. Jones, was never prosecuted in connection with the murder, despite his admitted involvement. Mr. King’s police interrogation from July/August 1999 as well as his preliminary hearing and trial testimony includes his admissions to being involved in the crime on the night that it occurred. Specifically, he admitted to keeping the stolen suburban at his apartment complex overnight, and assisting in transporting and selling the vehicle the following day. Mr. King also received less than the statutorily mandated sentence for habitual offenders in connection with unrelated charges. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 11, 13.)
A Rush to Judgment, Intensified by Race
The crime was highly publicized and racially charged from the beginning. The victim was a prominent white man and the suspects were young black men. Even before his arrest, Mr. Jones’ picture was broadcasted on the local news and he was described as the killer. Some recall that the then-district attorney, Bob Macy, went on television the night of the shooting to call for the death penalty for the perpetrator. (Second Application for Post Conviction Relief at p. 22.) When Mr. Jones was arrested, prior to being put in the police cruiser, an officer removed his handcuffs and said, “Run [n-word], I dare you.” (Mr. Jones, personal communication.)
In addition, during jury selection for Mr. Jones’ trial, black prospective jurors, with the exception of one, were excluded from jury service on the grounds that they had some criminal histories. Yet, a white man who served on Mr. Jones’ jury and sentenced him to death had two prior felony convictions that the prosecution did not disclose to Mr. Jones’ defense. (Original Application for Post-Conviction Relief at p. 14.)
Over his career, District Attorney Macy sent 54 people to death row, more than any other district attorney in the United States. Prosecutorial misconduct was discovered in approximately one-third of D.A. Macy’s death penalty cases and the courts have reversed nearly half of his death sentences. In fact, D.A. Macy was forced to retire in 2001 in the wake of a scandal involving a forensic scientist accused of falsifying evidence. Three people D.A. Macy helped convict were exonerated and freed from death row and it is likely that others were executed before their innocence could be proven. (Harvard University, Fair Punishment Project, America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors, at pp. 8-10 at http://fairpunishment.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/FPP-Top5Report_FINAL.pdf.)
Following the murder, a team of nearly all-white Oklahoma City and Edmond police officers searched the Jones’ family home for evidence against Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones was not present and his family was cooperative with the police. Nonetheless, officers forced Mr. Jones’ family out of their home at gun-point. The officers ransacked the house to the extent that it received media attention. They also gave conflicting statements about how they found evidence. The preliminary hearing and trial testimony of OKC/EPD police officers illustrate their conflicting statements regarding how they located the gun and red bandana in the Jones home. These officers also fail to detail the extent to which Mr. Jones’ co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, directed them to that evidence.
New Evidence Shows that Racial Prejudice Inflamed At Least One Juror
In November 2017, Mr. Jones’ current legal team discovered new evidence that at least one juror harbored racial prejudice that influenced his vote to convict and sentence Mr. Jones to death. One juror reported telling the judge about another juror who said the trial was a waste of time and “‘they should just take the n-word out and shoot him behind the jail.’’ The juror reported that the juror who made this comment was never removed and the court did nothing. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at p. 14.)
The U.S. Supreme Court has unambiguously condemned racial prejudice, as evidenced by racial slurs, from playing any role in even a single juror’s decision to convict a defendant and sentence him to death. Chief Justice Roberts has explained that “our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are” and a departure from this bedrock principle is “exacerbated” where “it concerns race.” Under an unbroken string of Court precedent, Mr. Jones is entitled to a reversal of his conviction and death sentence or, at a minimum, to an evidentiary hearing on his claim that the juror’s racial prejudice violated his rights under the state and federal constitutions. Our criminal justice system should not stand for this particularly odious denial of Mr. Jones’ right to a fair and impartial jury. (Third Application for Post-Conviction Relief at pp. 14-16.)
No Court has Heard All of the Evidence of Racial Discrimination in this Case
After Mr. Jones’ conviction and death sentence, Jerome A. Holmes, a federal prosecutor serving as chief of the Oklahoma U.S. Attorney’s Office, wrote a published opinion stating that Mr. Jones’ claims of racial prejudice were unfounded and he deserved to die. He was later appointed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he sat on the three-judge panel that decided Mr. Jones’ federal appeal. Judge Holmes did not recuse himself from Mr. Jones’ case, actively participated in the oral argument, and voted to deny Mr. Jones’ appeal. After his conflict of interest came to light, a subsequent Tenth Circuit panel re-heard Mr. Jones’ appeal and also denied relief. (See 10th Circuit Motion for Recusal and Rehearing,; see also Amicus Brief in Support filed by legal ethicists.)
Mr. Jones’ Conviction and Death Sentence Should be Set Aside
Any one of the violations of Mr. Jones’ rights under the state and federal constitutions require that his conviction and death sentence be overturned. The cumulative effect of multiple violations, many of them infected by stunning racial prejudice, compels a halt to his execution until the appropriate decision maker hears all of the evidence. If Oklahoma is to have the death penalty, the State must do everything in its power to come to convictions and death sentences fairly and accurately, and give full consideration to all possible claims of wrongful conviction.