Julius, a nineteen-year-old from Oklahoma, was about to face a herculean type endeavor to prove his innocence. Bob Macy was the Oklahoma County District Attorney at the time, and he was considered one of the five deadliest prosecutors in the U.S. He had sent over 54 people to death row. The growing number of death penalty cases left the Public Defenders office flooded with high-profile cases, and no one to defend them except inexperienced and overworked attorneys. Julius’s case landed on the desk of David McKenzie. He had no capital trial experience and between 70 and 80 other cases sitting on his desk at the same time. To say he was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Robin McPhail was the second chair for the defense, she had just finished law school and obviously, had no trial experience at all. David and Robin had to go up against the giant himself, Bob Macy, in what was considered the most high-profile murder in the county that year, and a man’s life was in their hands.
The trial began on February 14th, 2002, Julius was twenty-one years old. The prosecution based their case around their four key witnesses; Megan Tobey, Kermit Lottie, Ladell King, and Chris Jordan. Megan gave her unwavering testimony of the description of the assailant, white shirt, red bandanna, stocking cap, 1/2 inch to inch of hair sticking out from the bottom. This would have been an opportune time for the defense to submit Julius’s booking photo for reckless driving from nine days prior to the arrest for Paul Howell’s murder, but they didn’t. They never did anything with it at all. Because this crucial piece of the puzzle was never submitted, the jury never saw it. Hair just doesn’t grow that fast. Reasonable doubt means it’s just as likely that someone else could have done it. They never raised the probability of the shooter being Chris Jordan.
Ladell King gave a rather consistent statement but added that he and Julius were good friends, even though in reality, they had only met two months prior.
Kermit was facing drug charges at the same time he was asked to be a witness in this case, so there was a separate hearing without the jury to see if he was getting preferential treatment for his testimony. The prosecution insisted he was not, thus making him credible for the jury. His statements stayed consistent.
Chris had already been given a plea deal of thirty years without parole. Chris’s testimony is where the inexperience of the defense really showed. He had given six different statements and some of his statements in court contradicted previous statements made to police. For reference, here are a few examples:
“I walked up to the car…I mean Julius walked up”
“I didn’t touch the gun.” “I might have touched the gun.”
He said he saw Paul on the ground feeling for keys, but based on where he said the car was at the time, he couldn’t have seen anything.
He also stated in court he had never stayed the night at Julius’s house, even though he had already told police he was there on the 29th.
Chris kept minimizing his involvement, his knowledge, his distance, thus trying to minimize his culpability.
David McKenzie said himself that his cross-examination of Chris was awful. He’s also older, wiser, and more experienced now. An experienced attorney would have obliterated Chris on cross-exam.
The Prosecution rested and the Defense had their turn for rebuttal, Julius was ready to tell his side, his story, his truth, but he didn’t get the chance. The defense rested their entire case around their cross-examinations. They never called any expert witnesses, never submitted any exculpatory evidence, and never called Julius or his family to testify. He was stunned.
The jury only took three hours and fifteen minutes to reach their verdict. On April 19th, 2002 Julius Darius Jones was sentenced to death. Robin McPhail sobbed when the verdict was read. Julius handed her his pocket square.
Appeals & Problems with the Trial
No trial is perfect, but some are absolute train wrecks, this was one, this entire case was. Multiple genres of issues were found throughout the investigation and trial, this included ethical and racial issues. The first issue I noticed with this case, besides Julius not fitting the description, was that there was no physical evidence tested. The red bandanna wasn’t tested for DNA to exclude or include anyone. One man had already lost his life, and another man’s life hung in the balance, why on Earth wouldn’t you test everything? Especially when one man is pleading not guilty. Julius was convicted based on informant testimony, which is inherently unreliable.
Both Kermit and Ladell were longtime informants. At the time of the trial, Kermit was facing 40 years on drug charges. Detective Fike personally wrote a letter to the prosecutor on Kermit’s case asking for leniency. Remember at trial they had to have a special hearing about this and the prosecution denied any deal took place, Kermit only served four years. This gave the appellate team grounds to argue a Brady claim. He had given testimony in another case that put a man named Paris Powell on death row. Paris was exonerated after 12 years. Kermit obviously wasn’t credible. Ladell had a pending charge for a bad check at the time of Julius’s trial, and because he had three prior felonies he would get an automatic 20-year sentence. The charges were curiously dismissed.
The jury was told Chris would serve a 30-year mandatory sentence. Chris was overheard bragging in jail about only having to do 15 years. He served 15 years and was released without parole. Let me say that again, without parole.
They all had something to gain by testifying against Julius, and they all did.
The jury was predominantly white, with only one African-American juror. Other African-American jurors were struck from the jury pool by the prosecution for various reasons like, they were the victim of a crime or if they knew someone in law enforcement. White jurors who gave the same answers, however, were kept. This is certainly grounds for a Batson challenge.
At one point during the trial, Sandra Elliott, the lead prosecutor, went up to the jury box and held her hand to one of the jurors head as if it were a gun, frightening the jury. Under Oklahoma law, this is clearly prohibited. In 2005, an appeals court found Elliott’s demonstration not so egregious as to deprive Julius of a fair hearing.
Under Oklahoma law, you can’t convict someone of a crime based on the testimony of a co-conspirator alone. It has to be with another testimony or evidence that lays proof to the fact that the defendant was involved. In Julius’s case, his appellate team argued that they were all co-conspirators.
A juror was heard saying “Well they should just take this n***** out back, shoot him, and bury him under the jail.” He was not dismissed and the defense was never told what the statement was.
One of the judges in Julius’s case, Ray Elliott, was exposed in 2005 for racism when he referred to Mexican’s as “nothing but filthy animals who deserve to be taken south of the border with a shotgun to their head” and that if they needed volunteers he would be first in line. How can a racist be impartial? Impartiality is a rather large requirement for any trial to be considered fair wouldn’t you say?
Let’s not overlook the fact that the Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, who brought the charges up against Julius, had prosecutorial misconduct discovered on 1/3 of his death penalty cases. Over 50% of his death penalty cases have been overturned on appeal. In 2001, Macy was forced to retire due to a scandal involving forensic scientist Joyce Gilchrist, who was accused of falsifying evidence for Macy’s case. The blatant misuse of authority and purposeful forensic error resulted in at least ELEVEN wrongful convictions according to the innocence project. These eleven individuals include people like Curtis McCarty who was sent to death row after Macy withheld evidence and Gilchrist falsified blood evidence and destroyed hair evidence and David Bryson who was wrongfully accused of kidnapping and rape after Gilchrist destroyed evidence. Bryson was released 18 years later when follow-up DNA testing excluded him.
FBI analyst Kathleen Lundy testified in Julius’s trial using bullet lead analysis. This type of analysis was thoroughly discredited as scientifically unreliable, as was she, when she pled guilty to false swearing-in connection to her expert testimony on bullet led comparison, just 14 months after Julius’s trial.
The nation’s most successful exoneration attorney, Kathleen Zellner was quoted as saying she was, “surprised they hadn’t put crime scene tape around the Oklahoma City Crime Lab.” I think that one sentence speaks volumes.
There have been two separate inmates who had shared a cell at different times with Chris Jordan, that have both come forward with information that Chris stated Julius was innocent and that he was the shooter. Chris also bragged about only having to serve 15 years, something no one other than the D.A.’s office knew. Both jailhouse informants voluntarily gave the information and neither had anything to gain. One was on death row, and the other was serving life without parole. Their information was denied citing “incentivized witness”, but they had nothing to gain, Kermit, Ladell, and Chris did. If you would like to read one of the informant’s statements, I have included it here.
Julius’s direct appeal raised more than twenty issues. All twenty points were denied.
Post-conviction relief denied.
Death Penalty and Oklahoma
There was a study that showed Oklahoma homicides with white victims are the most likely to result in a death penalty. Three times more likely. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, over 75% of murder victims in cases resulting in death were white, even though nationally only 50% of all victims are white. That’s a huge bias.
Oklahoma County is one of only 2% of all American counties responsible for more than 1/2 of ALL prisoners on death row. Oklahoma has the second highest rate of incarceration of men and the highest of women.
-Sit down and take a breath for this one-
An Edmond detective named Dennis Dill worked with Theresa Pfeiffer (she worked with Fike on Julius’s case) on another case in the early 90’s. It was a very prolific and brutal murder where a man named Jimmie Slaughter was accused of killing his girlfriend and their baby. Dennis Dill found evidence that proved Slaughter’s innocence but was told by Pfeiffer to change the report to reflect guilt. Dill refused, and the next day he was transferred to patrol. Jimmie Slaughter was executed in 2005.
The stakes are so high with death penalty cases, so shouldn’t the standards be as well?
Since 1976 the South has been responsible for 82% of executions. Executions were put on hold in Oklahoma in 2014, due to a botched lethal injection attempt. Between 1915 and 2014 Oklahoma had executed a total of 192 men and 3 women. We know at least one of those men were probably wrongfully accused. If one innocent person is wrongfully executed, then how are we any less monstrous than the monsters we lock away? The process can be better, it should be better. What if it was you were locked in a room for 23 hours a day declaring your innocence at the top of your lungs, but no one listens?
Julius is in the last stage before execution. His appeals are all exhausted. He can now file habeas and ask the federal court to review his conviction and sentence. He has an amazing appellate team working tirelessly to save his life. Between his new team of attorneys and The Last Defense bringing all of the shortcomings of the burden of proof in this case to light, the current Oklahoma County District Attorney has allowed DNA testing to be done on the red bandanna. This happened in July 2018. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has also been written to request clemency.
In March 2018, the Oklahoma Attorney General announced that nitrogen gas will be the new method of execution. Julius could be assigned an execution date by the end of the year.
Julius has an amazingly strong family and support system, brilliant attorneys fighting for him, and shows like The Last Defense getting his story out, letting his voice be heard. He has written a book of poems called “JuWels from Death Row’. I included one of his poems here.
There is still hope for Julius. There is still hope to set right a wrong. There is still time.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr .
So what do you think? Is Julius innocent? Is there room for improvement and accountability in our criminal justice system? If you want to follow the Justice for Julius page, you can find it on Facebook, it also has his address if you would like to write to him. I will write updates when the DNA results come back, or any other news in his case.
If you would like to get involved in helping Julius here is a link to sign a petition Petition. Don’t stand by idle.
Also a link to the Justice for Julius page.
Sources include: Death's Door Podcast The Last Defense The Edmund Sun The Innocence Project Online court documents Death Penalty Information Center