Over the past decade, there has been a rise in social activism among professional athletes in the United States.
More and more athletes by the day are harnessing the true power of their social influence, to fight systemic racial inequality in the United States.
Griffin, Westbrook, and Young each wrote to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the membership of the state’s Pardon and Parole Board, calling for a sentence commutation for Julius Jones, who has been sentenced to death for a murder in 1999, he claims he did not commit.
Jones, 39, has been on death row for 20 years.
“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 wrote in a clemency application. “I feel terrible for Mr. (Paul) Howell and his family, but I was not responsible.”
Jones lack of a fair trial, is apparent to many familiar with the case. Each of the three NBA stars feel that the justice system has failed Jones.
“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.
Westbrook spent his first 11 seasons in the NBA playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, before signing with the Houston Rockets last year. Despite no longer representing OKC, his connection to the area remains strong.
“I believe the state’s criminal justice system is on the verge of carrying out a grave injustice, one that is inconsistent with the values of the Oklahoma I know and love,” Westbrook wrote.
Westbrook believes that Jones’ legal team failed him, by being unable to sufficiently defend Jones.
“In addition, they failed to adequately question the co-defendant, who is reported to have bragged in jail about framing Julius. 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 disturbing to me,” Westbrook said.
On top of it all, the jury wasn’t made aware of critical details that could’ve exonerated Jones.
“The jury did not hear that the Jones family was hosting a game night at the time of the crime and that Julius was present. The jury also did not see a photo that would have shown that Julius did not fit the eyewitness’ description,” Griffin wrote.
“I’m here to be a leader. I’m here to be supportive. I’m here to make change.”
Powerful message from Trae Young. pic.twitter.com/dBzkrn9gOv
— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) June 1, 2020
Justice wasn’t served in 1999, but it isn’t too late to save Jones from the corrupt system that put him on death row.
“Julius’s attorneys, who lacked death penalty experience and were woefully unprepared, failed to cross-examine the co-defendant regarding his inconsistencies,” Young wrote, “Right now, Julius Jones’ life is in your hands.”
It shouldn’t take three NBA stars to get Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and the membership of the state’s Pardon and Parole Board to give Jones a fair shake, but this is the world in 2020.
It’s important to shine a light on these kinds of moments, and continue to encourage athletes to stand for what they believe in. It has never been more to not shut up and dribble.
Learn more about Julius and advocate on his behalf by clicking the link below.