The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3–1 on Monday to hold a second, in-depth hearing on Julius Jones’ commutation application.
Commutation is a two-stage process in Oklahoma. Jones' application, the first in the state being considered from an inmate on death row, was on Monday's docket for its stage one hearing. Board members Kelly Doyle, Adam Luck and Larry Morris voted for it. Board member Allen McCall voted against it.
Jones was convicted of the murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell in 2002 but has maintained his innocence. Jones' legal team has argued his defense was poor and the trial was tainted by racism, and celebrities have taken notice of his case because of a 2018 documentary about him.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater asked Pardon and Parole Board Chair Adam Luck to recuse himself over a 2019 retweet of Kim Kardashian talking about Jones’ case. Luck on Monday declined to step away, saying he used that solely as an opportunity to explain the commutation process.
"I believe the communication provided clarity on a process that is a first for the state of Oklahoma and is related to a specific case. By mentioning the communication in question, I ensured that this communication would reach the largest audience possible in that context on that platform," Luck said.
If Luck had recused himself, it may have jeopardized Jones’ application. Board rules count absences as "no" votes, and the board doesn't have a fifth member to break a tie. Former Chair Robert Gilliland resigned in December and died last month. His replacement has not been appointed.
New information about the case has been made available to board members. Last week, Jones’ legal team produced a letter and video from a man who served time in an Arkansas prison with Jones’ co-defendant, Christopher Jordan. The man alleges Jordan confessed to murdering Howell.
McCall, a retired judge, said Monday it’s appropriate for the board to have it because they’re not a court.
"This is not a trial. You know, the jurors hear evidence for two weeks, two months or whatever, and then a verdict is reached. The case goes on appeal, the appellate courts review it for sometimes 15, 16 years. We can’t do something like that. We have to operate on a summary proceeding," McCall said.
Jones' attorney, Dale Baich, commented on the board's ruling on Monday.
"The pardon and parole board is giving serious consideration to Julius’ claim of innocence, including the additional evidence that Chris Jordan confessed to the crime to a third person," Baich said.
Jones’ stage two hearing will happen in June. He and his supporters can address the board at that hearing.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter released a statement Monday saying he’s disappointed in the three pardon and parole board members who voted to advance Jones’ application.
"The three members who voted in favor of moving Jones to stage two did not apply objective standards to the law or the evidence. I encourage those members to go back and look at the 33-page protest letter and 849-page appendix we submitted last Monday, which completely invalidates every claim that Julius Jones is innocent," Hunter said.
Prater sent a letter to the board last week asking them to deny Jones’ application.