Protecting the Image of God—Especially on Death Row

A testimony from Julius Jones and the minister who led the campaign to stop his execution.

In 2018, I was a mom and teaching pastor newly relocated to Oklahoma. That’s when I heard of Julius Jones, who was then on death row following a 2002 conviction for murder.

I stumbled upon his story one night while watching The Last Defense, an ABC docuseries about people facing execution with strong innocence claims. To say I was devastated by the issues in his case can’t capture how much his story affected me. Here was a young, smart, Black man who seemed to have so much going for him, suddenly caught in the grips of the criminal legal system and sentenced to death right in Oklahoma.

I didn’t know anything about the justice system at the time. All I knew was that God was calling me to do something about Julius Jones—to help lead the effort to stop his execution. I convinced several friends from my church and other leaders in the community to join the cause.

For two years, we shared Julius’s story with fellow Oklahomans by showing the docuseries, holding panel discussions, and building social media platforms. Through strategic prayer and a daily grind of connecting with community leaders as well as national influencers and organizations, the Justice for Julius campaign officially launched in 2020. The timing—around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—wasn’t ideal but couldn’t be avoided: An execution date for Julius was to be announced at any moment.

When I describe the campaign to save Julius’s life, I always talk about it as a human chain, like how strangers on a beach link arms to pull someone from a rip tide. People from every demographic—rich, poor, young, old, progressive, conservative, white, indigenous, Black, and more—came …

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