Okla. Supreme Court Denies Request By DA To Remove Parole Board Members From Jones Hearing

Sep 10, 2021

The request by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to block two parole board members from Julius Jones’s commutation hearing has been denied by the state Supreme Court.


The order denying Prater’s request to have Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle refrain from taking part in Monday’s commutation proceedings was handed down shortly after a hearing that took place Friday afternoon.


At that hearing, attorney Sandra Howell-Elliott argued for the state to a Supreme Court referee that Luck and Doyle were not impartial, though she attempted to make her opening remarks short.


“I’ll try to be brief because I think everything’s pretty much contained in the motions that we filed to disqualify Mr. Luck and Ms. Doyle,” said Howell-Elliott. 


She went on to say the state was not looking for any advantages but only to disqualify Luck and Doyle or to push off the hearing. She said this was a unique situation.


“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a prosecutor’s office ever trying to disqualify a member of the parole board,” said Howell-Elliott. 


The situation was egregious enough to merit special attention, Howell-Elliott said. 


“I cannot fathom going to the parole board and conducting a hearing in front of these two people who we have sought to disqualify and the public at large believing that we’re getting a fair hearing,” said Howell-Elliott.


Prater has accused Luck and Doyle of being partial due to public comments and their employment. Both work for nonprofits that help ex-prisoners. Luck has elevated social media posts that question the guilt of Julius Jones.


Referee Ann Hadrava criticized the tight timeline, referencing responses from the opposition. Jones’s commutation hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday.


“Here we are on literally the eve of Monday’s hearing,” said Hadrava. “So why is this now?”


Howell-Elliott said Prater had made a request to the parole board but got no response. She said she believed Prater made the request just after Jones’s case was moved from the first to the second stage of the commutation process in July.


“He got no response whatsoever. And that has kind of been their practice not to respond. So we had to follow it up with a motion by the deadline date,” said Howell-Elliott. 


Referee Hadrava then prompted Howell-Elliott to respond to the other points raised by the opposition. Howell-Elliott - who up until then had been speaking without reference materials -  retrieved her notes. She argued that Luck and Doyle were allowed to have their own personal opinions, but since those views had been so vehemently expressed publicly, it was obviously impossible for them to put those views aside.


“Mr. Luck especially has explicitly said he believes it’s his job mandated by God to free his people, to let them out of jail,” said Howell-Elliott. 


Evan Gatewood, attorney for Luck, then gave his arguments. He said Luck’s views have been known for years and the last minute motion by Prater was a deliberate tactic.


“They knew about it. They had these allegations and they lay in wait until September 3rd and sprung it on us. So that’s why we’re here for an expedited hearing: because of the actions and delay tactics of Mr. Prater. Now, what we really have here is a veiled attempt to attack the executive power of the governor,” said Gatewood.


Governor Kevin Stitt appointed Luck in 2019. Gatewood said Stitt appointed Luck because of Luck’s views on incarceration in an attempt to make the parole board more balanced.


“What we have here is Mr. Prater thinks his idea of what the parole board should look like should override what the governor of this state thinks it should look like. That’s what’s really going on,” said Gatewood.


Kevin Doyle, attorney for Kelly Doyle, made similar arguments to Gatewood’s, and also said the case was inappropriately before the Supreme Court since there are other methods to remove a board member for just cause. 


Doyle also characterized Prater’s motion as an assault on human services.


“It’s nothing other than a direct attack against the social service community, against the social service workers who work with incarcerated individuals. There’s no other way to read it,” said Doyle.


Barring other developments, Jones’s commutation hearing will take place at 9 a.m. Monday. He will need three of the five parole board members to vote in his favor to commute his death sentence.


Gov. Stitt will then have the final say.


Jones doesn’t have a set execution date, but Attorney General John O’Connor has requested Nov. 18 or Dec. 9.