John Thompson writes about his former student, who is scheduled to die:

As the nation wrestles with the latest police killings and Black Lives Matter protests, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board must decide whether to allow the execution of my former student, Julius Jones. Julius’ request for commutation has gained the support of the Congressional Black Caucus; criminal justice expert, Bryan Stevenson; numerous elected officials, pastors, bishops and archbishops; the Executive Director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform; the President of the NAACP State Conference; and public figures ranging from Kim Kardashian to a former Attorney General of Canada; and the Executive Director of the George Kaiser Foundation.

Now, three NBA basketball players, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and Trae Young, have joined in support of Julius.

Griffin, Westbrook, Young: Commute the sentence of Julius Jones

I was struck by the personal part of letter written by Griffin, who often was in our gym when I played basketball with Julius, his brother and his sister, as well as the person who we believe committed the murder. He wrote:

My father, Tommy Griffin, coached Julius when he played basketball at John Marshall High School, and often I would tag along to practices and watch Julius and his team play. Our familial relationship goes back generations. My father grew up with Julius’ parents. Our grandmothers were best friends. The Jones family has always had strong values and deep commitments to the community.

I feel terrible for everyone involved in the tragic events of the summer of 1999; however, I do believe that the wrong person is being punished for this crime.

Coach Griffin offers similar support: “’In my heart and my mind, I think that they should open it up and look at it strongly,’ Tommy Griffin said. ‘If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. But there are so many things leading to them being wrong.’”

Twenty years ago, we often thought that Oklahoma City was moving on from the nightmare of the 1980s and early 1990s when the War on Drugs perverted our criminal justice system. We had no idea that even today, actual innocence, alone, would not be enough to get the Supreme Court to consider the now-huge body of evidence that Julius is innocent.

Click to access Aglialoro-final.pdf

As I recall, my visit to the Jones’ home was scheduled before Julius’ arrest, so I was in their living room just after their house was ransacked by the police. I clearly remember the thoughts shared between so many people who knew both defendants. We didn’t expect the police to just take our words for it, but neither did we expect to be completely ignored. It quickly looked like the investigators had made up their minds, and targeted the least likely suspect.

Being a former legal historian who had deeply researched the Oklahoma County District Attorney office’s recent past, I recalled one DA’s favorite meme: “Every inmate at Big Mac (state prison) is guilty of the crime he was duly convicted of – or something else.”

Twenty years later, there is abundant evidence that the institutional racism, which drove so much of law enforcement assumptions, explains why Julius is on Death Row, even though the totality of new evidence has not been reviewed in court. The co-defendant, Chris Jordan, changed his story at least six times when interviewed by the police, but Julius’s inexperienced attorneys didn’t cross-examine Jones regarding his inconsistencies. The jury did not hear that Jordan bragged to fellow inmates that he, not Julius, had committed the homicide. Nor did the defense attorney stress Julius’ photograph, taken a week before the crime, which showed he did not fit the only eye witness’ description of the shooter. Julius’ attorneys also failed to present evidence that Julius was home with his family the night of the murder.

In exchange for testifying against Julius, Jordan pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, was given a life sentence with possibility of parole after 30 years. However, there is evidence of a secret deal with Jordan where he would only serve 12 to 15 years in prison in exchange for his testimony. Jordan was released from prison after serving only 15 years.

Neither was it revealed that a juror reported that another juror used the N-word when referring to Julius, but was not removed from the jury.

If jurors or judges could view all of the evidence presented in the three-hour ABC documentary, The Last Defense, they could connect the dots accordingly. I suspect few would conclude that the evidence points to Julius’ guilt. It’s hard to see how any would say that he received a fair trial.

And I expect that most would agree that much of the problem was the continuing assumption that young, Black defendants must be guilty of something or they wouldn’t be a suspect. That mindset likely helps explain why the Oklahoma City police have killed 48 people since 2013, the second highest, per capita rate in the nation.

Chief calls report ‘extremely flawed’ but data appears accurate in labeling OKC with second highest police killing rate

Of course, the law enforcement mindset which targeted Julius is still alive, and it contributes to the police killings that are being protested by Black Lives Matter and a range of Americans of all races. That battle will continue for a long time. It is hoped, however, that the Parole Board will consider Julius’ case in early June. Almost 4 million have signed his petition, and I hope readers will help reach the goal of 4.5 million.

Sign the Petition