Julius Jones Wins Phase I Of Commutation Process

In what some might call a stunning vote by the probation and parole board, they voted 3-1 to consider Julius Jones’ case for commutation. Jones has spent two decades on death row after his conviction of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell in Edmond. Howell was a well-known businessman in Edmond and Jones a student at Oklahoma University (OU) where he was on the verge of winning a basketball scholarship. All these lives collided in 1999 and set off a monumental struggle to correct what many see as a grave injustice. This week was a major step towards possible victory.

The loyal opposition is full of indignation at this point. Part of the opposition against Jones is concerning the no vote on the Pardon and Parole board’s C. Allen McCall who has waged a one-man war against Jones. He has been assisted by the unsolicited help from Oklahoma City District Attorney David Prater. Prater sent a 15-page letter outlining why Jones should not be granted a commutation. However, it is riddled with opinion and information that has been determined to be suspect. Jones’ attorneys had an answer for all of it.

The fight to win the next phase will come down to attorneys on both sides stating their case. Jones’ side is compelling, and the eyewitness account and alibi were not presented by Jones’ inexperienced legal team. By their own admission they provided inadequate defense of Jones that could have provided an alibi and challenged the only eyewitness account. Perhaps even more compelling is new information regarding an admission of guilt by codefendant Christopher Jordan. Jordan was an eager witness against Jones and received what could be described as preferential treatment for his testimony and now walks free after serving a short sentence. However, in jail, witnesses have come forward to say Jordan admitted to killing Howell.

To be sure there is counter testimony and Jones’ legal team has their work cut out for them. So compelling is this case, it speaks to years of injustice for black defendants. A high percentage of black defendants executed have been found to be innocent. Perhaps as high as one in ten. That is a horrific statistic for a barbaric practice of state sanctioned executions.

This case has caught the attention of entertainment and sports figures across the nation. Viola Davis documented the case in her series The Last Defense. Russell Westbrook and other well-known athletes took up Jones’ case. Kim Kardashian has visited Jones and met with state officials about his case. Thousands of Oklahomans and millions of Americans have lent their support for Jones’ freedom.

There is still time to discuss the merits of the case and persuade the pardon and parole board during the next phase. Like other cases of men wrongly put on death row, Americans are growing tired of fighting for justice. Time to suit up again.

Black Farmers Among Those Getting Help With USDA

In a move that may correct historic wrongs against farmers of color in their dealings with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), help is coming for oppressed farmers. For American farmers, the USDA has been a source of help during tough times. For black farmers, the USDA has been the problem. For lack of a more delicate way of putting it, it appears the USDA has worked to drive out black farmers from business. This help will come way too late as millions of black farmlands were lost because USDA would not modify loans. Loans for white farmers were routinely reworked to their benefit.

Under the President Donald J. Trump administration, the 2020 Coronavirus Food Assistance Program devoted 97 percent of the $9.2 billion in ag relief to white farmers.  Under the $1.9 trillion covid package, an act titled the American Rescue Plan Act will direct half of the $10 billion toward disadvantaged farmers. That includes Black, Native American, Alaskan, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islander farmers. The help will amount to debt relief for thousands of farmers of color. This should reduce the constant drain of farms unable to compete with white farmers who succeeded with federal help traditionally withheld from black farmers.

This relief package and the rest of the almost two trillion-dollar bill will be transformative in scope and will lift millions out of poverty made worse by the global pandemic. Hopefully, there will be wholesale changes in leadership at USDA. And those changes include people of color.

Police Starting To Face Charges For Shooting Citizens In Oklahoma City 

For a variety of reasons, law enforcement is rarely charged with crimes for shooting unarmed citizens. Shooting people of color carries a foregone conclusion that the chances of a charge of murder against a policeman who shot a citizen is rare. Qualified Immunity for police officers shielded law enforcement often because policemen say the legal protections are needed for them to perform their duties. Yet those protections hardly justify over 1,000 people a year killed by peace officers each year. That all may be changing in places like Oklahoma City.

On December 11th 2020, Sgt. Clifford Holman, 36, reportedly shot and killed Bennie Edwards in the back. Edwards is black and now Holman is charged with first degree manslaughter. There is recently released bodycam video to show the alleged crime.

Also, this week, charges are to be filed against five Oklahoma City police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy in November. Stavian Rodrigues was alleged to have participated in a gas station robbery on November 23, 2020. According to police reports Rodriguez was shot 13 times by five officers when according to officers he failed to follow their commands.

Charged are Officers Bethany Sears, Jared Barton, Corey Adams, John Skuta and Brad Pemberton with first degree manslaughter. A review of the case will be conducted by the Oklahoma county district attorney’s office. All the officers are on administrative leave.

Across the nation legislatures are pushing through police reforms which include eliminating qualified immunity. The United States Supreme Court is presently dodging cases regarding qualified immunity until the legislative dust settles.

In Oklahoma, half of all deadly police shootings are black, and half are white. The percentage, if it holds would be the highest on record. Hopefully, something is done to prevent the murder of citizens by law enforcement.