Julius Jones’ co-defendant admitted in prison to Paul Howell slaying, inmate says

Collaborator: The Frontier
Published: 03/01/2021, 2:34 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:42 AM
Written By: Dylan Goforth (OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) Christopher Jordan, Julius Jones’ co-defendant in the 1999 slaying of Edmond businessman Paul Howell, admitted in prison to killing Howell and letting Jones take the fall for crime, according to an inmate who served time in an Arkansas prison with Jordan. The revelation was made last year in a series of letters and video interviews between Arkansas inmate Roderick Wesley and Jones’ attorneys, who are seeking to free Jones, or at least remove him from Oklahoma’s death row. Wesley, who is serving a 50-year sentence for aggravated robbery in Arkansas, sent his first letter to Jones’ defense team on July 15, 2020, after watching a documentary about Jones on television and recognizing Jordan. In the letter, he said that in 2009 or 2010 Jordan told him “my co-defendant is on death row behind a murder I committed,” Wesley wrote in a letter to Amanda Bass, one of Jones’ attorneys. “At the time I didn’t think much of it, I can even recall him making statements such as ‘I’ll fuck you up like I did that man,’” Wesley wrote in the letter. “This occurred when we would be on the basketball court and things would get heated.” It wasn’t until the summer of 2020, when Wesley was with other prison inmates watching television, that he saw the documentary on Julius Jones’ case — “The Last Defense” — and put two-and-two together. In the documentary he saw footage of a young Jordan, clad in a jumpsuit, walking to his trial. He recognized him instantly. Wesley said he had worked with Jordan in the commissary at the East Arkansas Regional Unit, a prison in Brickeys, an unincorporated town in eastern Arkansas that sits less than an hour from the state line. Wesley said it was “between summer and fall” in 2009 when he and Jordan were talking about their cases. “One day we’re sitting there, I’m telling him about my situation, he pretty much told me about his because at the time I didn’t even know he had the murder charge,” Wesley told Jones’ attorneys Rebecca Postyeni and Dale Baich in a recorded interview that was provided to The Frontier. “So it was pretty much like I guess you could say at the time (he was) being sorta remorseful. But it was one of those cases where (he was like) ‘I’m sorry but I’m not gonna just jump out there and throw myself to the wolves.’” Oklahoma prison records don’t show Jordan as having spent time in Arkansas as an inmate, and Arkansas prison officials did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Frontier. But court records show Jordan was granted the ability to serve his sentence out of state on what’s known as an “interstate prisoner transfer,” which allows high-risk inmates to serve their prison sentences elsewhere. Howell was shot to death in his parents’ driveway in Edmond in the summer of 1999. He had just returned from a shopping trip with his daughters. While Jones’ profile has risen over the years, Howell’s family has remained mostly quiet following the murder convictions decades ago. Wesley said in his letters to Jones’ attorneys that he had not been promised anything in return for his statement, but that after seeing the turmoil Jones’ family had gone through in the documentary, he felt compelled to tell his story. He described he and Jordan as “good friends,” who had won prison basketball tournaments together. But, eventually, he said, he felt he needed to come forward. “When I saw it on TV, it was a big decision, do I jump out there or what,” Wesley told Jones’ attorneys. “But I looked at it like if it was my situation, I would want somebody who had information to go ahead and do it because this is a man’s life on the line.” In one letter Wesley said he knew that someone would question his credibility and “ask exactly why I’m coming forth with such information now.” “This man’s (Jones) family has been through 18 years of pain and suffering, while Mr. Jordan is walking free,” Wesley wrote in the first letter he sent to Jones’ defense. He said he was troubled to hear Julius Jones’ sister say in the documentary that if Julius Jones gave up, that she would give up too. “If this man is wrongfully executed, by continuing to conceal this information, I feel as if I would have had a hand in putting this man to death and I can’t live with that on my conscience,” Wesley wrote. Baich said Wesley’s first letter, which the defense team received last July, was both a source of excitement and frustration. With time running out on Jones’ case, the letter represented a new door to open, and the possibility of new information. But the Arkansas prison system was not allowing in-person visits because of the coronavirus pandemic. Baich’s investigator wrote Wesley back, expressing excitement at the possibility of speaking with him. But everyone knew it would take time. They just didn’t know how much. “It was summer, so we thought, ‘We can wait a month,'” Baich said. We didn’t know how long everything would last. We were thinking by the end of August or early September we would be able to meet with him. Instead, they played a game of “prison phone tag,” writing Wesley, then waiting weeks for a return, then writing back. The two sides were finally able to meet on Zoom and had multiple interviews that way. “When we got to that point, the Arkansas prison officials were very accommodating and understanding,” Baich said. “But it’s not the type of meeting that we usually have or want to have. “The pandemic has really made this frustrating for everyone,” Baich said. “I’m sure it’s slowed down the pardon and parole board. It slowed down our investigation. But we’re just really happy that it all came together and we’ll be able to present this as part of the case for commutation.” Both Jordan and Jones were convicted of the murder, though Jones was sentenced to death and Jordan, who eventually testified against Jones, received a reduced sentence and left prison in 2014, according to Oklahoma Department of Corrections records. After Howell was killed, his sister told authorities the shooter had a red bandana on his face and a stocking cap with some amount of hair sticking out underneath. The gun used in the slaying was found in attic space above Jones’ bed at his parents’ house, along with a red bandana. Later testing showed Jones’ DNA on the bandana. Jones’ attorneys have told The Frontier they expected Jones’ DNA to be on the bandana since it was in his parents’ house, and while Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has said Jordan’s DNA was not present on the bandana, Jones’ attorneys have said there were multiple other DNA profiles present that could not be identified. Jones has been on death row now for decades, and while he’s maintained his innocence, his appeals have come and gone with no success, leaving him with limited options. But last year he was given a glimmer of hope. With athletes and celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Baker Mayfield, Dak Prescott and Russell Westbrook drumming up public support for Jones, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board asked Hunter if they could hear commutation requests for death row inmates like Jones. Law forbids the pardon and parole board from paroling inmates on death row, but commutation — the substitution of a lesser sentence for one deemed too extreme — was potentially a possibility for Jones. Hunter, who has said he believes Jones is guilty of Howell’s murder, told the board that former Attorney General Scott Pruitt had already ruled that there were no limits on the power of the board to commute any sentence. Jones’ name appears on the March commutation docket listed on the Pardon and Parole Board website and will have his case heard on March 8. And while commutation may be a last-ditch effort to free Jones from prison, it’s by no means a guarantee. Commutation in Oklahoma is a multi-stage process. First, the board must review the inmate’s file to determine if he or she meets the criteria for a commutation. If the inmate passes to the second stage, a hearing is held where representatives from both the inmate’s camp and the victims’ camp testify. The board then decides whether or not to recommend to the governor that the sentence be commuted. A positive recommendation would then reach the governor, who can decide on his own time whether or not to commute the sentence. If Jones’ case reached the second stage, it could open the door to more of this recently collected information from Wesley. “There are no avenues left for us in the courts,” said Baich. “So this is the last chance for all of the evidence that was not presented at trial to be reviewed and considered … We have presented a very strong case, and we’ll just have to wait and see what the board does.” Since his election in 2018, Gov. Kevin Stitt has supported an increase in the use of the pardon and parole board’s authority. In 2019, under Stitt’s guidance, the state’s pardon and parole board approved commutations for about 500 prison inmates. At one point, before Stitt was elected, the board went years without taking up a single commutation request. But just as there is growing support for criminal justice reforms in Oklahoma, support for the death penalty here remains strong, and, with all his appeals expired, Jones will presumably be among the first inmates on death row who receive an execution date, though no one knows exactly when that process will begin. Oklahoma officials announced in 2020 that after a delay of more than five years, they were prepared to resume lethal injection in the state as soon as the courts would allow.


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