Stories, true crime, wrongful conviction

The Story of Julius Jones

Disclaimer

Part One

Tennessee Williams once wrote, “We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us locked in it”. Those words ring eerily true for a man in McAlester, Oklahoma who gets one hour a day outside of his solitary confinement cell on death row. He’s not allowed outside, only out of his cell. The feel of sunlight on his skin is a distant memory. His name is Julius Darius Jones and his story has stayed with me since I first heard it, and it’s one I can’t seem to shake. Perhaps, it will have the same effect on you.

Julius Darius Jones was looking at very bright and promising future after graduating from John Marshall high school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with a 3.8 GPA granting him an academic scholarship to the University of Oklahoma where he also played basketball. He had been a member of the National Honor Society, The National African Boys Club, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and The Presidential Leadership Club. He played basketball, ran track, and was co-captain of the football team at John Marshall. He seemed to excel in everything he did. Julius was still a teenager that showed poor judgment from time to time, however, with prior convictions for petty thefts and a false statement in pursuit of a state I.D. Despite his mistakes, he still held the keys to any future he wanted in the palm of his hands, something his parents were very proud of. Suddenly, on the night of July 28, 1999, everything changed, the world stopped turning, and not just for Julius.

The Crime

On Wednesday, July 28th, 1999 a full moon lit up the Oklahoma night sky. It was a family outing night for Paul Scott Howell, a 45-year-old businessman, a church deacon, and father. Paul, with the help of his sister, Megan Tobey took his two young daughters shopping for school supplies. Before heading back home to his parents house in Edmund, he decided to treat everyone to ice cream at a local Braum’s. Upon returning to his parents home at 727 East Drive, and exiting his 1997 gold suburban he was suddenly approached by an African-American male who began demanding the keys. Megan heard a gunshot as she was exiting the vehicle and instinctively turned to face her brother and the assailant. Megan saw a man she described as “a young African-American male with a white t-shirt, red bandanna over his face, black stocking cap over his head, and about a half-inch to an inch of hair sticking out from the bottom of the stocking cap”. She heard him demanding the keys from Paul, and she had already heard one gunshot. Megan bravely pulled her nieces from the vehicle and ran with the girls towards her parent’s house. As she was frantically running through the carport, she heard a second gunshot. Paul’s parents rushed outside to find their son lying in the driveway with a single gunshot wound to the head and his 97 suburban missing. Paul’s parents immediately called 911 to hopefully get their son assistance, but tragically Paul died at the hospital 4 hours later. 

Local Background

I feel like the questionable and unfortunate racial prejudices that can be found in this case require a little background of the area. When full integration of blacks and whites began, many white families left Oklahoma City and began populating the suburbs that surrounded it. Edmund was one of these areas. At the time this crime occurred, Edmund was 85% white. The victim was a white male gunned down by a black male in a wealthy part of town, and the racial biases began. People in the community wanted severe and harsh punishment for the assailant to hopefully deter future crime in the area, or to discourage any further integration in Edmund. I found an interview with Tom Chaney who was a reporter for the Edmund Sun. He stated, “Everyone in the community knew him (Paul), and that may be the reason that the ripple effect of his death was so far and wide.”

Let me add here that news media and police quickly released the description of the assailant to the public. By the next day, the public knew the description.

The Investigation

Police recovered two shell casings from the Howell’s driveway. Both shell casings were from a .25 caliber gun. They worked tirelessly, but no break in the case came until that Friday, July 30th. Oklahoma City Police recovered Paul’s suburban on the south side of the city parked at Central Grocery. They found a bullet hole in the dash, answering the question of the first gunshot. The location of the vehicle was evident to the officers that worked that area that they needed to speak with Kermit Lottie. Kermit was the owner of a chop shop not far from Central Grocery, he was also a long time criminal informant for the OKCPD and known for chopping stolen cars. One thing the police also knew about Kermit was if you were bringing him a stolen car, you left it nearby, you didn’t leave it at his shop. Kermit told police that two men, Ladell King and a man he didn’t know brought a car to him the day before, but he had heard a murder was connected to the car so he wanted nothing to do with it and told them no.

Ladell “Day Day” King was a notorious car thief in the area. Ladell was so notorious for car theft, he even demonstrated how to disarm a car alarm to the police. (He did it with a magnet for those wondering.) He was also a criminal informant for the Edmund Police Department. Police went to pick up Ladell for questioning and they also collected the surveillance tapes from Central Grocery.  

Surveillance footage from Central Grocery showed Ladell and another unidentified African-American male inside the store together on the day the suburban was abandoned there.

When police questioned Ladell on the 30th, he was strangely cooperative. He made it emphatically clear that he was “a middleman just passing information from one person to another and nothing more”. Ladell told police that on the night of the murder his friend Chris “Westside” Jordan came to his house driving a ‘72 Cutlass. Ladell went on to say that about 20 minutes later Julius Jones pulled up acting unnerved, wearing a white shirt, stocking cap, red bandanna, gloves, and driving a gold suburban. He stated that Julius told him not to touch the car, and then asked if he knew somewhere he could sell it. Ladell told Julius to come back the next day, the 29th, and they would take the car to Kermit Lottie. He said that Julius followed his instructions and came back the next day, but when Kermit said no he got worried, so they dumped the car at Central Grocery. Ladell said later that night both Chris and Julius came back to his house. He said he walked up to Julius and said “I know you shot him” and Julius replied, “Man, O.K., the door came open and the gun went off”. He also emphasized to police that it was a direct quote from Julius. He went on to say Chris and Julius wanted to steal a car. They spotted Paul at Braum’s and followed him. Chris stayed in the car, and Julius got out.

Chris Jordan had been a student at Santa Fe High School in Oklahoma City until he started getting in trouble due to his association with known gang members of The Rollin 60 Crips. Worried, his parents moved him to John Marshall High School where Julius was also attending. When the police caught up to Chris, he went on to give them SIX different stories as to what happened that night. He would often confuse “I” and “me” with “Julius”, or “he did hear a gunshot” but the statement before he “couldn’t hear the shot”. In some interviews, he said he could see a man on the ground, in regards to Mr. Howell, but then the next interview he couldn’t see anyone. Chris was all over the map with his answers and statements. During one of Chris’s interviews, one of the detectives, Tony Fike, asked Chris if he was sure he didn’t have it backwards and Chris was the shooter? Chris quickly said no, that Julius was the shooter. Police now had a star witness. So which version of Chris’s statement did police use? 

Chris’s official statement from July 31st (the day after he was taken into custody) becomes as follows: He told police that he and Julius decided to steal a car and they were driving around in the cutlass when they saw Paul’s suburban and decided that was the one. Chris said Julius told him to stop a fair distance away from Paul’s parents home. He said Julius got out of the car, approached Paul, and shot him. Chris stated he had no idea Julius had a gun and was freaked out when Julius shot Paul. Julius stole the car and they went to Ladell King’s apartment. Chris stated he didn’t know anyone would be killed.

Under Oklahoma Felony Law, if you are in commission of certain felonies, usually violent, and an accomplice murders someone you are just as culpable, even to the death penalty. This law gave police the leverage they needed on Chris. They took the death penalty off the table offering leniency and he sang like a canary, telling them everything they wanted to hear. The deal was only going to be given to the first one to talk, obviously. 

On the 30th, Detective Fike called a number Ladell King gave them for Julius. According to police, Julius answered the phone. Fike said he told him he wanted to discuss the murder and he said ok. Fike went on to say that Julius escaped through a second story window as police were surrounding the house.

– The entire event of the police surrounding the house and waiting on the search and arrest warrants was captured by multiple media outlets. No one had any footage of Julius escaping.-

According to Julius, he answered the phone and when police asked to speak to him he asked what it was about. Julius said they told him a murder, and he said Julius isn’t here and just left the house. 

At the same time as police are surrounding Julius’s home and anxiously awaiting their warrants, they had Chris Jordan in the back of a police car outside Julius’s home. Once police obtained the warrants, six hours later, the tactical team entered the Jones’ home guns drawn looking for Julius and evidence. In order to complete his deal, Chris was directing them to locations inside the home they needed to look, including a hidden panel in the closet ceiling of Julius’s bedroom. This was where police find a gun wrapped in a red bandanna. Video footage from the recent ABC documentary “The Last Defense” showed the once immaculate Jones’ home completely wrecked after the search. You could see cut up mattresses, ketchup and mustard on the floor, washroom powder on the floor, even a few windows were broken. Where was Julius?

As with every good story, there is more than one side. The following is a summary of the night of July 28th, and the following days as told by Julius and his siblings.

On the night of July 28th, 1999, Julius said he was at his parent’s house having a spaghetti dinner with his family. It was a late birthday dinner for Julius. He vividly remembers how his siblings ate almost all of his cookie cake. His sister Antoinette recalls that cookie cake and how mad Julius was because they ate it. She said Julius was waiting by the front door for her mom when she arrived back home around 10:00 p.m. to tell her about the cake. Their mother had just returned from taking their brother Antonio to work. 

-This is the same time Paul Howell was shot and killed 8 miles and a 20 minute drive away, in Edmund.-

They spent the rest of the night playing Monopoly until Chris Jordan picked him up around 11:30 p.m. Julius said that Chris was late and when he asked him why Chris stated he “got into it with someone” and “you don’t know him”.

The next day, the 29th, Julius said Ladell King paged him. He thought it was odd because they had only met two months ago and didn’t really know one another well. Ladell said he was looking for Chris, but couldn’t find him so he wanted to see if Julius would help him move a car for some money. He said he was hesitant at first knowing the car was stolen, but he wanted the money. He drove to Central Grocery to meet Ladell, who was driving the suburban, and they went inside to buy drinks. They left the suburban and went to find Chris, who they later found at the gym. Julius said Ladell went in first, and when he walked in after, he saw Ladell and Chris in the corner having an “intense conversation”. Later that night, on the 29th, Julius recalled Chris showing up asking if he could stay the night because he was locked out of his grandmother’s house. He said Chris stayed upstairs in his room, and he stayed downstairs on the couch.

Julius’s brother Antonio remembers seeing Chris upstairs after he arrived home from work that night. He made the comment that Chris looked “spooked”.

The next day was when Julius said that Detective Fike called and he said he wasn’t at home and just left. He said he just started walking and once he made it to 119th St. he saw Chris and he picked him up. Julius said he told Chris that the police just called him and he replied with “don’t worry about it man, just go warn my brother the police are looking for us”. Julius said he thought he meant Chris and Chris’s brother. He did what Chris asked and went to warn his brother. Julius said he was at Chris’s brother’s apartment when he saw his parents house on the news. He described complete shock and confusion seeing police surround his house. He didn’t know what to do, so he just stayed where he was. It was 6:30 the next morning, the 31st when police arrested 19-year-old Julius at the apartment for first-degree murder. He said he heard a detective tell him “you’re gonna fry”. Julius said he remained silent.

So now police had the two alleged perpetrators in custody, one of which fit the description of the shooter. Problem was, the only witness to the crime vehemently insisted she saw a half-inch to an inch of hair sticking out from under the stocking cap, which described Chris Jordan, not Julius. Julius even had a police mug shot from nine days prior to the murder, same short haircut. But the murder weapon and red bandanna were found in Julius’s room, however, Chris stayed in that room the night before, and Chris himself told police where to search for it. Not to mention Julius’s family all corroborated his alibi that he was at home with them at the time of Paul’s murder. Certainly, this would all be brought up at trial for Julius’s defense so the jury could at the very least see reasonable doubt right?

Part Two of Julius’s story will cover his trial, the outcomes, the shortcomings of our justice system, and the unbelievable occurrences still to come in this story.  Maybe you’re already convinced of Julius’s guilt and don’t want to continue reading, or perhaps like me, you are feeling confused and not at all confident in Julius’s culpability in this crime. Either way, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but there is a whole other part to this beast of a story to tell.

 

 

 

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