OKLAHOMA CITY — It was hard to tell who was more surprised by the person on the other end of the phone, Stephen Curry or Julius Jones.
Curry, a worldwide superstar, said he got goosebumps thinking about his conversation with Jones, an Oklahoma man who’s spent the past 19 years in prison for a crime he maintains he didn’t commit. A clemency trial concerning his scheduled execution prompted advocates of Jones to connect with Curry and the Warriors while they visited the state this week for their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jones, 41, and another man on Oklahoma’s death row were granted a temporary stay of execution Wednesday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is weighing a lawsuit by a group of 30 inmates over the sedative used during Oklahoma’s lethal injection process. Although the state can appeal the stay, the clemency hearing set for next week will determine whether his execution is rescheduled at all.
“Coming out of a basketball game,” Curry said Tuesday night after a 106-98 win, “you’re celebrating a win in the locker room and then you’re like, ‘What’s it like in his shoes right now?’ It kind of checks you a little bit. (It) gives you appreciation for the blessings in your life but also the work that needs to be done.”
Jones was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of Paul Howell on the basis of eyewitness testimony and physical evidence, including the murder weapon being found in his family home. But his family says the description of the killer matches another man and that exonerating evidence wasn’t presented in the original trial.
Jones’ case gained national attention after ABC aired a documentary in 2018. He’s received public support from other athletes — and Kim Kardashian — but support from Curry, no stranger to social activism, meant even more, Jones’ family told the Bay Area News Group.
“Having him know who Julius is and saying that he’s going to stay on board and fight for him, that means so much,” said Antoinette Jones, Julius’ sister. “And then he got the opportunity to say a few words. He said that was crazy, that it was so awesome.”
Jimmy Lawson has been fighting to get his best friend out of prison for nearly two decades. When they lost their latest appeal, in 2015, he said it was hard not to give up hope.
On Tuesday, Lawson handed the phone with Jones on the other end to Curry.
“When he got on the phone with Julius,” Lawson recalled, “he was like, ‘Hold on, Julius is on the phone?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ Steph was like, ‘For real?’ We were like, ‘Yeah!’ ”
Jones and Curry talked about basketball, about his case, the possibility of meeting in person when — if — the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board rules in his favor Nov. 1. That would send a recommendation to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has the final decision.
If the board or Stitt declines his appeal, Jones would face death by lethal injection at a date to be determined.
His family prefers to think about the day he would be set free.
“We’re envisioning a positive outcome in Julius’ favor. I’m talking 5-0 for the vote. But I’m OK with 4-1,” Antoinette said. “From the family’s perspective, it’s been one hell of a nightmare that we have not woken up from.”
Advocates, including Bay Area pastor Mike McBride, organized rallies Tuesday around the scheduled clemency hearing, but it was pushed back a week.
It was McBride who connected the family with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who also posted a supportive message on social media and posed alongside Antoinette in a “Justice for Julius” shirt.
The conversation with Curry reinvigorated the family, Antoinette said.
“This was encouraging. This put a little uplift and recharge in it,” she said. “A little more go-get, like Julius said, ‘Let’s go get it, it’s go time.’ ”
On the phone, Jones asked Curry if he’d meet his mother and sign an autograph for his father. After the game, Curry said farewell to the family in the tunnels outside the locker room.
“You can tell how selfless he is in this whole situation,” Curry said. “I love the family, their love not just for Julius and their family member but what this case can potentially mean for reform in the legal system and incarceration system. … It was just the right thing to do. It’s an important opportunity to change somebody’s life that deserves an opportunity to be free.”