The Death Penalty Is Racist: Now Is the Perfect Time to Abolish It Once and For All

Jessica S. Henry
7 min readJul 12, 2020

Julius Jones has spent the last 20 years on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit.

It’s stories like his that should make us put an end to the death penalty.

In the fall of 1998, Jones was a freshman engineering student at the University of Oklahoma on a presidential scholarship. By the summer of 1999, Jones was in custody for the murder of 45-year-old Paul Howell, a businessman and father shot dead during a carjacking.

Jones claims that he was home with his family at the time of the shooting, but he was implicated by Christopher Jordan, Jones’ high school basketball teammate. Although Jordan changed his story no less than six times, he became the star witness in the case against Jones. Ladell King, a habitual offender who was facing life in prison for check fraud, also testified to Jones involvement.

Jones believes Jordan and King framed him to save themselves. If that’s what happened, it worked. Jordan served fifteen years and King ten before they were both released from prison. Jones, on the other hand, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Classic Case of Innocence

Jones’ trial was riddled by racism. The arresting police officer allegedly called Jones a n****, the prosecutor excluded blacks from the jury, and a juror who was an active member of the jury said aloud that they should “just take the n**** and shoot him behind the jail.”

It wasn’t just racism that landed Jones on death row. His court-appointed lawyers never presented his alibi defense — or any defense witnesses at all.

At the time of Jones’ trial, the prosecutor was responsible for putting more people on death row — a total of 54 — than anyone in the state. He later resigned in disgrace when it was discovered that a forensic scientist faked evidence in a different case. Prosecutorial misconduct was later found to be present in nearly one-third of those 54 death cases; more than half of those convictions have since been vacated, including three people who were exonerated.

Jones’s case has all the classic hallmarks of a wrongful conviction: police and prosecutorial misconduct, witnesses who testified after receiving sweetheart deals, and bad lawyering. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 4.1 percent of defendants who…

Jessica S. Henry

Criminal Justice Reform/Prof/Fmr public defender. Blog@ au:Smoke but No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened