On July 28, 1999, insurance executive Paul Scott Howell was shot in the head and robbed of his GMC Suburban in his parents' driveway in Edmond, OK. The 45-year-old was returning from a back-to-school shopping trip with his two young daughters and his sister. Nearly two-and-a-half years later, 21-year-old Julius Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in the case, as well as conspiracy to commit a felony. He was a University of Oklahoma freshman on a Presidential Leadership Scholarship at the time. And now, after nearly two decades on death row, Jones is the subject of national news again as one of the subjects of new ABC docu-series The Last Defense.
Like Darlie Routier, the other death-row inmate profiled on the series, Jones has always maintained his innocence. During his trial, his attorneys put the blame on Jones' co-defendant, then-22-year-old Christopher Jordan, who had admitted to telling different stories. In his closing argument, defense attorney David McKenzie told jurors Jordan lied to the police, to his attorneys, and during his pre-sentence investigation before taking a "sweetheart deal" from prosecutors in exchange for his testimony before pleading guilty to first-degree murder. "Christopher Jordan lied to protect himself," McKenzie said, per The Oklahoman. "He doesn't know what the truth is."
Jones has since appealed the verdict multiple times — taking the case to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014, for example. But that court found "the evidence of Jones' involvement in Howell's murder ... was quite strong, if not overwhelming."
Now, however, The Last Defense will take another look at the case. "[Jones] was convicted in Oklahoma in a racially-charged trial based on dubious informant testimony — the leading cause of wrongful convictions in capital cases," executive producers Vanessa Potkin and Aida Leisenring wrote in a letter to The New York Times. "His co-defendant, who served 15 years, fit the perpetrator's description. Mr. Jones did not ... When the government refuses to reopen these cases, national attention can be the only hope." The Last Defense premieres on Tuesday, June 12, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.