When it came to the pending fate of Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones, whose innocence the quarterback has publicly and passionately fought for, however, Mayfield couldn’t contain his emotions.
“Yeah, it’s pretty rough to be honest with you,” Mayfield, who won a Heisman Trophy at the University of Oklahoma, told a gaggle of reporters as he choked up. “That isn’t something that’s easy to talk about.
“Been trying to get the facts stated and the truth to be told for a while,” he continued. “But it’s tough to think about.”
Jones, 41, is awaiting execution Thursday for the fatal shooting of Paul Howell during a 1999 carjacking in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City.
Jones has maintained his innocence throughout and said a co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, who accepted a plea deal as the getaway driver and was released after 15 years in prison, was the real killer and framed him for the crime.
Jones was 19 at the time and an engineering student at OU planning to walk onto the Sooner basketball team.
He argues that an eyewitness description of the gunman matches Jordan, not him, that three separate inmates who served time with Jordan said he admitted to them he committed the crime, and that his public defenders failed to present his alibi (that he was home having dinner with his parents and sister on the night of the murder) to the jury. Jones’ lawyers called no witnesses at his trial.
Prosecutors say they have the right guy, pointing to Jordan’s testimony (albeit as part of a plea deal) as well as the murder weapon being found wrapped in a red bandana with Jones’ DNA on it in a crawl space of Jones’ parents home.
However, numerous independent organizations and citizens have looked at the case and found additional troubling aspects.
That includes in jury selection in nearly all-white Edmond, the use of racial slurs by a member of law enforcement, and a claim by one juror that a separate juror remarked, “This trial is a waste of time; they should just take this [racial slur], shoot him, and bury him under the jail.”
District Attorney Bob Macy, who retired in 2001 and passed away in 2011, oversaw the initial arrest and prosecution. Macy made a national name for himself as a staunch supporter of the death penalty, but in recent years his actions and convictions have come under tremendous scrutiny and criticism.
One-third of Macy’s death penalty cases have been overturned due to “prosecutorial misconduct” according to the Innocence Project.
Macy has been separately accused of working with a rogue forensic investigative department in OKC to frame defendants on numerous major cases, leading to 11 exonerations. Across Oklahoma alone, some 35 Oklahomans have been deemed wrongfully convicted according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
“We’re not in the same day and age that we once were,” Mayfield said in a brief documentary released by the National Football League two years ago. “There is right and there is wrong. It’s not the same old thing as it was, which was always wrong.”
All of Jones’ legal appeals failed and his fate is now in the hands of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has said nothing this week but refused to meet with members of Jones’ family, legal team, independent advocates or the condemned man’s pastor.
The Innocence Project has called for a complete exoneration. On Nov. 1, Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1, with one abstention, for Jones’ to be granted clemency. Stitt has not commented on that recommendation.
In 2018, a three-part c produced by actress Viola Davis and titled “The Last Defense” ran on ABC’s “20/20” and generated enormous interest in the case. It brought out numerous high-profile advocates, including Kim Kardashian West, who has tweeted repeatedly this week in an effort to get Stitt to stop the execution.
Mayfield said he was first connected to the case because of the shared ties to the University of Oklahoma. The more research he did on the case, the more people he spoke with, the more convinced he became in Jones’ complete innocence. He has tried politicking powerful interests in Oklahoma, writing letters, conducting media interviews to raise awareness, and even having “Julius Jones” printed on the back of his Browns helmet.
“Tried and tried,” Mayfield said Wednesday. “It’s a shame it’s gotten this far. We’re 24 hours away. It’s tough.”
Mayfield is just one high-profile athlete fighting for Jones. Former OU basketball stars Blake Griffin, Trae Young and Buddy Hield have fought for years. So too have past and present Oklahoma City Thunder players such as Russell Westbrook and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Stephen Curry even connected with Jones via a phone call in an effort to improve Jones’ mood.
“Seeing the evidence and hearing about the case, he’s on death row for something he didn’t do,” Mayfield said on the NFL documentary. “… Helping out good people is something I am passionate about and Julius is a good person who doesn’t deserve this.”
With just one day remaining and Stitt so far giving no sign of intervening, Mayfield looked defeated when he spoke to the media on Wednesday.
“You know, hopefully God can intervene and handle it correctly and do the things he needs to do.”
With that, he walked away. His mind on his friend back in Oklahoma.