The Capital City Black Film Festival will screen three episodes of The Last Defense, a documentary series that is having real world impacts on Julius Jones’s fight for justice. Jones was in college when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. As a result of the series, the Oklahoman Court of Criminal Appeals is reviewing the case for possible violations of Jones’s constitutional rights.
The series is produced by JuVee productions, the company owned by award-winning actress Viola Davis and her husband, Austin native Julius Tennon. The screening is scheduled for August 31, at 12:30 at the Austin Convention Center and will be followed by a discussion of how the series came to be and the research that went into the Jones case.
Before his arrest, Jones attended the University of Oklahoma on scholarship. Jones and his family have always insisted he is innocent. He made several attempts to appeal his conviction, but has so far been denied.
After The Last Defense reported the use of racial slurs by a juror, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said it was looking into racial bias by certain members of the original jury, according to KFOR-TV, an NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City. It’s unclear whether these allegations, if proven, will lead to Jones’s release, a new trial or some other outcome.
The case against Jones
In 1999 Paul Howell was shot during a carjacking and died a few hours later, according to a case write-up on FindLaw.com. Howell’s sister described the perpetrator as a black man. She said most of his face was obscured by a stocking cap and bandana, but she could see some of his hair. She noted the assailant didn’t have braids or cornrows, which seems to be the basis for identifying Jones.
Jones and a friend, who does have braids, were spotted around town with the stolen car. One witness even said the pair had tried to sell him the car, but he refused after hearing about the carjacking on the news.
Jones evaded police when they came to his home, but during a search they uncovered a gun believed to be used in the murder. The weapon was wrapped in a bandana that the perpetrator was described as wearing.
A friend and alleged accomplice testified against Jones at trial in exchange for a life sentence. Jones insists he was set up.
Since the series aired last month, the Congressional Black Caucus asked Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to look into the case. The gun and bandana linked to the crime are being tested for DNA. If the DNA isn’t a match to Jones, or the appeals court finds racial bias or judicial errors, he could go free.
“The success of The Last Defense has not only resulted in a re-examination of Julius Jones’s death row case,” said Juvee Productions president Julius Tennon, “it has revealed that miscarriages of justice happen each day.”