OKLAHOMA CITY -- Supporters of a death row inmate are spreading misinformation and trying to get the sentence of a guilty man commuted, the state's attorney general said Monday.
Attorney General Mike Hunter said every "misguided public appeal" to clear Julius Jones' name is revisiting pain on the surviving family members of his victim, Paul Howell.
Hunter called a press conference Monday in an attempt to rebut some of the misinformation, saying supporters have "manipulated to fit a narrative in an orchestrated effort to get Mr. Jones off of death row."
"Julius Jones is guilty," Hunter said. "He murdered Paul Howell. And he needs to be held accountable."
Jones has said he did not kill the 45-year-old insurance executive and was wrongly convicted in 2002.
Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1999 carjacking death of Howell. Howell was robbed and shot in the head in the driveway of his parent's home in Edmond.
Jones, then 19, was an athlete on scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. He's since exhausted all his appeals and faces death once the state resumes executions in the coming months.
Hunter said he'll continue to advocate for Howell's surviving family and get them the justice they're owed -- despite the "misinformation" coming from celebrities and other Jones supporters who are trying to pressure public officials to commute the death sentence.
"We've heard from a lot of celebrities," Hunter said. "I know they believe they're doing the right thing based on what they've been told. I'm just not sure they've been told the right thing."
Baker Mayfield, former University of Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner and current Cleveland Browns quarterback, is among those who have thrown their support behind Jones. NBA stars Blake Griffin, Trae Young and Russell Westbrook also have backed Jones. Reality television star Kim Kardashian West also has called for clemency.
In December, Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Kendra Horn also called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to review Jones' case.
In a statement at the time, she said she stood with Oklahoma City community leaders and advocates nationwide in calling on Stitt to consider Jones' petition for clemency.
"Ending Julius' life when there is so much uncertainty in his case would be an injustice, and we cannot answer one injustice with another," she said.
Some supporters argue that Jones should be granted clemency in part because of "racial bias" during the arrest, prosecution and conviction.
Supporters contend that a juror and an arresting officer used a racial slur when referring to Jones, who is Black.
Hunter said a judge thoroughly examined and investigated the claim that a juror heard a provocative comment that they "should place him in a box in the ground for what he has done" during the trial.
An investigation found that no other juror heard the remark, and the reporting juror wasn't sure it was actually made in reference to Jones, Hunter said.
There was nothing reported to the trial judge that indicated any juror heard or reported the use of a racial slur, Hunter said.
Hunter said there is no doubt Jones is guilty.
He said anyone calling for Jones' commutation should first read the trial transcripts, which "disprove every claim that he is innocent."
Howell's killer, Hunter said, was wearing a red bandana. Authorities later found the murder weapon wrapped in a red bandana in the attic space above the ceiling in Jones' closet.
When the red bandana was tested in 2018, Jones' DNA was found on it -- not his accomplice's. The odds of the DNA belonging to someone other than Jones is 1 in 110 million African Americans, Hunter said.
He also said Jones experienced numerous brushes with the law before Howell was killed. Jones was arrested for an armed carjacking the week before Howell's death.
Jones was tied to a jewelry store robbery at gunpoint and also accused of committing another carjacking, Hunter said.
Justice for Julius did not immediately release a response to Hunter's press conference Monday afternoon.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.