Exoneree Letter to OK Governor Requests Clemency for Julius Jones
September 1, 2021
The Honorable J. Kevin Stitt
Office of the Governor, State of Oklahoma
Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 Lincoln Blvd.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
Ms. Kelly Doyle
Mr. Adam Luck
Mr. Larry Morris
Mr. Richard Smothermon
Mr. Scott Williams
Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
2519 North Classen, Suite 405
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106
Dear Governor Stitt and Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Members,
We are writing in loving memory of Greg Wilhoit, and in honor of the nine other wrongfully convicted Oklahomans, who like Greg, were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. We ask you to please move forward with a speedy commutation hearing for Julius Jones and to consider all the information with open minds and hearts.
Greg Wilhoit’s sister, Nancy Vollertsen, is one of the signatories below, and is among those hand-delivering this letter to you today. Greg and Nancy grew up in a Christian family in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1985, Greg lost his beloved wife to a brutal murder, and subsequently, nearly lost his own life to a wrongful conviction. The mistakes in his trial were due to faulty forensic evidence and inadequate legal defense – issues that also marred Julius Jones’ trial.
Greg’s conviction was based on the testimony of so-called dental experts, who were barely out of dental school. Years later, the nation’s top forensic odontologists testified that the evidence could not possibly have come from Greg.
Greg’s family hired a highly regarded attorney who then appeared in court drunk, vomited in the judge’s chambers, had done no preparation for the case and presented no defense. Julius’ attorneys were similarly ill-prepared. They did no investigation, called no witnesses, instructed Julius not to testify, failed to bring forward evidence of his co-defendant bragging about setting Julius up, and neglected to present powerful alibi testimony placing Julius at his parents’ home at the exact time the murder occurred.
Oklahoma leads the nation in executions per-capita with 113 executions since 1978. In that time, 10 people have been exonerated in Oklahoma from death row. Half of them are African American despite only 7.8% of Oklahomans being Black. These facts emphasize the importance of a hearing for Julius Jones as soon as possible and the importance of considering whether he has been the victim of the same type of errors that led 185 people in the US to be convicted and sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.
Each of the signatories of this letter, except for Nancy, are victims of wrongful conviction, whose cases, like Greg’s, have chilling things in common with Julius’.
Herman Lindsey, like Julius, was a black man swept up in the push to reach a conviction. He was wrongfully sentenced to death in 2009 for a crime he had nothing to do with. Unlike Julius, the truth in his case was able to have its day in court when a unanimous Florida Supreme Court verdict said there had not been any evidence to convict him of anything, let alone sentence him to death.
Gary Drinkard, like Julius, had inexperienced lawyers who did not present his alibi, and like Julius, Gary was convicted based on the testimony of individuals who received sentence reductions in exchange for their testimony. He spent nearly 6 years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated in 2001.
Juan Melendez, like Julius, had an ineffective lawyer and was convicted and sentenced within a week for a crime he did not commit. He almost certainly would have been executed in Florida had it not been for the fortuitous discovery of a transcript of the taped confession of the real killer. It was eventually discovered that the prosecutor had systematically withheld exculpatory evidence. In Julius’ case, since the prosecution’s case file has yet to be shared with his attorneys, we cannot know what exculpatory evidence may exist.
We each suffered the reality of a wrongful death sentence and faced the horror of being executed for crimes we did not commit. We implore you to grant Julius Jones a fair clemency hearing in a timely fashion to present the case for his innocence. Please remember what happened to us, 10 Oklahomans, and 185 Americans when you review the evidence presented by his attorneys.
Gary Drinkard, Witness to Innocence Member
Herman Lindsey, Witness to Innocence Board Secretary
Juan Melendez, Witness to Innocence Member
Nancy Vollertsen, Sister of Oklahoma death row exoneree Greg Wilhoit