Russell Westbrook, Baker Mayfield and More Athletes Advocate for Julius Jones

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2020

HOUSTON, TEXAS - MARCH 08: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets reacts prior to the game against the Orlando Magic at Toyota Center on March 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
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Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, Buddy Hield and Baker Mayfield are among the athletes with prominent Oklahoma ties to write letters to advocate for Julius Jones, a black man who was convicted of first-degree murder in a controversial trial in 2002.

Jones was sentenced to death in the case.

"[Jones'] conviction was tainted by a deeply flawed process," Westbrook wrote in his letter, per Royce Young of ESPN. "As more details come to light regarding his situation, I join with many voices to express sadness and profound concern regarding his conviction and death sentence."

Jones filed a clemency report in October asking for his sentence to be reduced to time served. His case was the subject of the 2018 docuseries The Last Defense, which exposed accusations of racial bias among the jury and police department. 

Jones was arrested after a three-day search for "a young black male wearing a white shirt, a skull or stocking cap, and a red bandana over his face" involved in the shooting death of 45-year-old businessman Paul Howell in Edmond, Oklahoma. Jones was just 19 at the time.

In searching Jones' family home, police allegedly shattered windows, tore siding off the house, ripped apart beds and smashed picture frames. One police officer allegedly took off Jones' cuffs and said, "Run n----r, I dare you, run." 

Victoria Armstrong, a juror in the case, alleged another juror named Jerry Brown said the trial was a "waste of time" and suggested they "just take the n----r out and shoot him behind the jail." Armstrong told the judge presiding over the case about the comments, but Brown was allowed to continue as a juror.

"Beyond the obvious shortcomings of the trial, another issue that continues to weigh on me is the obvious racial bias that permeated Julius' arrest, prosecution, and conviction," Mayfield said in his letter.

"Every American is supposed to be guaranteed a fair and impartial trial," he continued. "But when your arresting officer calls you the 'N-word,' when a juror calls you the 'N-word' and when all of this unfolds in the context of decades of death penalty convictions slanted against black men, it is impossible to conclude that Julius received fair and impartial treatment."

Westbrook wrote that it was "deeply disturbing" that a juror who used a racial epithet was allowed to continue on the jury. 

Jones maintains he was not involved in the shooting and was not even in the area the crime was committed. A student at the University of Oklahoma at the time of his arrest, Jones was planning to walk on to the Sooners' basketball team during his sophomore season. Jones played high school basketball for Tommy Griffin, the father of NBA forward Blake Griffin.

Blake Griffin got involved in fighting for Jones' freedom after watching The Last Defense with the help of Kim Kardashian West, who has become a criminal justice advocate.  

"I never realized the impact people could have in making sure justice is truly served," Blake Griffin said. "I'm willing to do anything."

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young took to social media to show his support for Jones:

Trae Young @TheTraeYoung

#JusticeForJulius 🗣✊🏽🖤 https://t.co/UJwyXEMXgx

A Change.org petition for Jones has nearly 5.8 million signatures. 

Jones is slated to be among the first people executed when Oklahoma resumes executions, possibly as soon as the fall. He has exhausted every legal appeal, and saving his life may be up to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt granting him clemency.