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NBA stars urge Oklahoma governor to grant clemency to death row inmate

Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and more are rallying support behind prisoner Julius Jones.

Russell Westbrook Getty

NBA stars such as Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, Buddy Hield and NFL athlete Baker Mayfield are urging Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant clemency to Julius Jones, an African American death row inmate who could receive an execution date as early as this fall.

In 2002, then-19-year-old Jones was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of businessman Paul Howell. Jones has continued to maintain his innocence in the incident.

“As God is my witness, I was not involved in any way in the crimes that led to Howell being shot and killed,” he wrote in his clemency report last year. “I have spent the past 20 years on death row for a crime I did not commit, did not witness and was not at.”

Jones’ advocates have long pointed to discrepancies in the case, including an allegedly racially biased jury. In 2017, it was revealed that one of the trial’s jurors, Jerry Brown, allegedly said that trial was a “waste of time” and — before evidence had been presented — told his fellow jurors that they should “just take the ni**er out and shoot him behind the jail.”

Houston Rockets player Westbrook referred to the account in his recent letter to Gov. Stitt.

“As I have learned more about the case of death row prisoner Julius Jones, it has become readily apparent to me and many others that his conviction was tainted by a deeply flawed process,” Westbrook wrote. “I am also troubled by the issues of racial bias in Julius’ case. To hear that a juror allegedly used the N-word when referring to Julius during trial, yet remained on the jury, is deeply distributing to me.”

According to Jones’ clemency report, one of his arresting officers also used the slur during his arrest. Jones claims an officer removed his handcuffs and told him to “Run, ni**er. I dare you, run.”

“I stood frozen, knowing that if I moved, I would be shot and killed,” Jones wrote of the incident in his report. Police have since denied using the slur.

“Beyond the obvious shortcomings of the trial, another issue that continues to weigh on me is the obvious racial bias that permeated Julius’ arrest, prosecution, and conviction,” Cleveland Browns quarterback Mayfield wrote in his letter.

“Every American is supposed to be guaranteed a fair and impartial trial,” he continued. “But when your arresting officer calls you the ‘N-word,’ when a juror calls you the ‘N-word’ and when all of this unfolds in the context of decades of death penalty convictions slanted against black men, it is impossible to conclude that Julius received fair and impartial treatment.”

The athletes’ letters follow efforts made by Kim Kardashian, the Julius Jones Coalition and more to advocate for Jones’ clemency.

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