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High court rejects appeal from Oklahoma death row inmate claiming racial prejudice

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Jones
Jones

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from Oklahoma death row inmate Julius D. Jones, who was convicted of killing an Edmond man in his driveway in 1999.

Without comment, the court declined to hear Jones’ argument that his conviction and sentence were tainted by a racist juror. Jones has now exhausted his appeals and is eligible for an execution date when the state resumes executions.

Dale Baich, a public defender in Arizona who represented Jones for the appeal, said Monday, “Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision. The systemic racial bias and the racist slur by a juror in this case led to a wrongful conviction. We will continue to investigate this and other issues as well.”

Jones sought new review of his case after a juror in his trial revealed to his legal team two years ago that another juror had made a racist comment. Jones is black. The victim in the killing, Paul Howell, was white.

Victoria Armstrong, a juror in the 2002 trial in Oklahoma County, told Jones' lawyers in 2017 that another juror had commented outside the courtroom that he considered the trial proceedings “all a waste of time" and that “they should just take the (racial epithet) out and shoot him behind the jail.”

Armstrong had reported to the trial judge in the case that a third juror commented during the penalty phase that “they should just place (Jones) in a box in the ground for what he has done.”

Jones' trial attorney requested that the judge remove the juror who had made the comment about placing Jones in a box, but the judge denied that request and a subsequent request for a mistrial. Though Jones' attorneys knew about that comment, they were not aware of the racist one until informed by Armstrong two years ago.

New attorneys for Jones asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to review the case again in light of the information about the racist comment.

The state court rejected Jones’ appeal last year. The court said an affidavit from the juror, not a Facebook post, was required. Also, the court ruled that claims of juror misconduct had been part of previous appeals in the case.

"While this claim was not raised in this exact manner previously, a factually similar claim of juror misconduct made by this same juror was litigated both at trial and on direct appeal," the state court said.

The court said Jones' lawyers could have discovered and presented information about the racist comment in Jones' earlier appeals.

In the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones' attorneys said the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had wrongly equated the previous claim of juror misconduct with the new claim. The court's reasoning and state law denied Jones an opportunity to present new evidence and make federal constitutional claims, his attorneys told the high court.

The Oklahoma attorney general's office, which urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to review Jones' case, declined comment Monday.

There are now 19 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals and are eligible for execution dates when the state resumes executions. Oklahoma has not executed an inmate since 2015. Last year, the state abandoned lethal injection as its execution method and has been exploring the use of nitrogen gas.

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›

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