Today is Phase II of Julius Jones’ commutation hearing. In fact, by the time you are reading this, a final decision about this man’s life likely already has been made. I woke up this morning thinking about Julius’ sister whom I have embraced while shedding tears feeling the pain of a sibling’s hurt. I also thought about Paul Howell’s family, especially his daughter. I cannot imagine how I would feel watching the world seemingly support the person you believe to have murdered your father. I thought about sitting across the table from Cece Davis-Jones as she shared why she stepped out on faith and chose to advocate for a man she did not know.
Six years have passed since the state’s last execution but now, amidst a global pandemic (yes, COVID still is around), our state seeks to execute seven individuals in five months. One of these individuals is Julius Jones. Why now? After a year and a half of watching COVID related death numbers continue to rise — 8,208 Oklahomans as of this moment — expediting the executions of seven individuals before year’s end feels tone deaf. And there is the lack of fiscal logic. An independent study determined that Oklahoma capital cases, on average, cost 3.2 times more than non-capital cases. I cannot help but think about how entanglement with the criminal industrial complex negatively impacts our communities. It is not just the individual behind the walls who feels crushed by the criminal system but the families and loved ones as well. Too often, this burden, this weight, is carried by women — mothers, sisters, partners and daughters. Even if it isn’t the woman who is detained, it more than often is a woman posting bail, adding funds to the commissary and trying to coordinate travel to prisons located far from home.
But we are about the facts, so here are just a few. Oklahoma is tied for second for the most executions since 1976; Oklahoma has executed the second highest number of women since 1976; and is the second highest incarcerator of women in the world, only after holding the number one spot for decades. We also lead the nation in high ACE scores and are in the top five for maternal morbidity. However, our state is in the bottom ten for safety and wellness.
Jones’ case feels like a no win situation. The victim’s loved ones need healing and closure and believe that executing Jones will bring them the peace they deserve. On the other side of the courtroom, Jones’ family has lived in anguish for nineteen years believing in the innocence of their son, brother, and loved one. I believe in restorative justice because it is another pathway for healing and redemption. Restorative justice allows space for decisions made based more on facts rather than by gut wrenching emotion.
I shudder at the fact that the state of Oklahoma may execute Jones only to later find out that he is innocent. I shudder more in cultural despair that the state seemingly is not deterred by the possibility that it may execute an innocent man and the underlying factors that clearly motivate its posture.
Thank you for taking the time to read my morning musings.