Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott wrote a letter Thursday to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and members of the state's Pardon and Parole Board seeking the commutation of a death sentence received by Julius Jones related to the 1999 murder of Paul Howell.
Jones maintained his innocence throughout the case, which was analyzed in ABC's documentary series The Last Defense in 2018, and a Change.org petition seeking his release citing an "explicit racial bias" has received over 6 million signatures.
Sean Gregory of Time obtained a copy of Prescott's letter advocating for Jones' cause:
"After reviewing the facts of the Julius Jones case, I firmly believe the wrong person is being punished for this terrible crime; furthermore, an evaluation of the process that led to Mr. Jones' conviction raises serious legal and ethical concerns. I implore you to right this wrong. Please don't let another innocent Black man die from the systemic mistreatment that has plagued our nation for far too long."
A website started to spotlight Jones' story, Justice For Julius, includes a copy of his clemency petition filed in October 2019.
"But, as God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Paul Howell being shot and killed on July 28, 1999," Jones wrote. "I have spent the past 20 years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness, and was not at. I feel terrible for Mr. Howell and his family, but I was not responsible."
Jones also alleged Chris Jordan, a co-defendant who accepted a plea deal and then testified against Jones, told two people prior to the case that he was prepared to frame him:
"Prior to my trial, Chris admitted to two people that I wasn't involved in the murder. In late August or early September 1999, Chris told a man named Manuel Littlejohn that 'Julius didn't do it' and 'Julius wasn't there.' Chris admitted to Manuel that he tried to frame me by wrapping the gun used to commit the crime in a bandana and hiding it in my house. Chris also told Manuel about his secret side deal with prosecutors, telling him 'I'm going to do 15 years and go home.' That's exactly what happened. Even though I told my lawyer about Chris' confession, he never asked Chris about it and he never called Manuel to testify at my trial."
In his letter, Prescott cited his own familiarity with racial injustice, saying "as a Black man in this country right now, I experience injustices firsthand day in and day out, even as an athlete with 'celebrity status'" and urged Stitt and the board to overturn a "miscarriage of justice":
"It is my firm belief that Julius Jones' conviction and death sentence is an egregious injustice. Mr. Jones has been on death row for 20 years, despite written affidavits from his trial lawyers describing the ways they failed him in court. Mr. Jones' attorneys never presented the photo taken nine days prior to the crime that could have provided clarity about the shooter's description. They were appointed without having any experience in death penalty cases, and did not even present Mr. Jones' alibi at trial. In addition, a member of the jury (comprised of 11 white members out of 12) has confirmed that the jury acted with racial animus—admitting that inappropriate and biased statements were made by other jurors during the trial, including the use of racial slurs.
"The treatment of Julius Jones is the kind of miscarriage of justice African American men like myself live in fear of, and that is why I feel compelled to use the influence that God has blessed me with to speak up for what I believe is right and to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Julius Jones' case is a clear example of what can happen to a person who cannot afford legal representation, and what can happen to a black person at any time in this country—which is exactly why so many are protesting for the changes we so desperately need. ... My prayer is that he is able to salvage what remains of his life and that, through the righting of a decades-old wrong, he will be restored to his family soon."
In June, Prescott made a $1 million donation to address systemic racism and improve training for police officers throughout the United States.
Per Gregory, other athletes with connections to the state have also written letters of support for Jones, including the Houston Rockets' Russell Westbrook, as well as Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons, the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young, the Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, all of whom starred at Oklahoma in college.