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The Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected a request to remove two members of the state’s Pardon and Parole Board from a high-profile death penalty case.

The court’s brief ruling on Friday denied a prosecutor’s request to remove Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle from considering the commutation request of Julius Jones, who was sentenced to death for the 1999 killing of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.

The ruling came after a lawyer for District Attorney David Prater argued before a court referee that unless members Luck and Doyle were barred from taking part in the decision, the five-member board would likely recommend that Jones’ sentence be commuted following a hearing Monday.

Prater, who argued that Luck and Doyle have a conflict of interest because of their work with released inmates, said in a statement that he respects the high court’s decision.

“This is the system I operate in every day and I believe in it, though decisions don’t always go as I desire,” Prater wrote.

Prater said his office is prepared to present “the truth of the circumstances” surrounding the fatal shooting of Howell during a carjacking.

“If the Board objectively considers the truth, they will quickly vote to deny the killer’s commutation request,” Prater said.

Attorneys for Luck and Doyle didn’t immediately reply to Saturday phone messages seeking comment.

Jones’ attorney, Michael Lieberman, said he is pleased the ruling came quickly.

“We’re certainly very grateful to the Supreme Court for getting that issue resolved as quickly as they did,” Lieberman said. “We’re looking forward to Monday, going before the parole board to prove that (Jones) is innocent.”

The board could recommend downgrading Jones’ sentence to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, but Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt would make the final decision.

Prater vowed to oppose a commutation recommendation should the board send it to the governor. Jones, now 41, has maintained his innocence since his arrest and alleges he was framed by the actual killer, a high school friend and former co-defendant who was a key state witness against him.

His case drew widespread attention after it was profiled in “The Last Defense,” a three-episode documentary produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. It has since drawn the attention of reality television star Kim Kardashian West and athletes with Oklahoma ties, including NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Trae Young, who have urged Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and spare his life.

Prater and former state Attorney General Mike Hunter have said the evidence against Jones is overwhelming. Information from trial transcripts shows that witnesses identified Jones as the shooter and placed him with Howell’s stolen vehicle. Investigators found the murder weapon and a bandana with Jones’ DNA in an attic space above his bedroom, but Jones claims in his commutation filing that the gun and bandana were planted there by the actual killer.

Jones also maintains his trial was contaminated by a racist juror, but Hunter has noted that the trial court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals found otherwise.

Supporters of Jones plan a prayer service and a rally Monday in support of his commutation application.

“Julius Jones will finally have a chance to tell his story,” said the Rev. Cece Jones-Davis of Justice for Julius, who is not related to Julius Jones. “We believe the truth will set him free.”


Maryland’s highest court has agreed to take up the case of Lee Boyd Malvo, who is serving life in prison for his role in the 2002 sniper spree that terrorized the Washington, D.C., region.

Malvo’s lawyers argue that his punishment goes against a 2012 Supreme Court ruling barring mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders and Malvo should benefit from Maryland’s new law enabling prisoners convicted as juveniles to seek release once they’ve served at least 20 years.

The state Court of Appeals granted a “bypass” review in Malvo’s case and that of two others serving life sentences for crimes committed as youths, news outlets report. The order issued Wednesday scheduled oral arguments to begin in January.

Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad embarked on a killing spree that left 10 people dead and three wounded in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Others were killed as the pair made their way to the D.C. region from Washington state. Muhammad was executed in 2009.

Malvo has claimed that the six life-without-parole terms he received in Maryland are illegal in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions saying mandatory life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles except in rare cases.

His case may have new standing after Maryland’s General Assembly abolished life without parole for youths, overriding a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan. Virginia passed similar legislation last year. That change prompted Malvo to drop a legal appeal that had gone to the Supreme Court to determine if his life sentence should be rescinded.


A woman convicted in the 1987 kidnapping and death of a northern Illinois businessman has been granted a re-sentencing hearing by the state’s appellate court.

Nancy Rish, 59, petitioned in December 2017 for a resentencing hearing so that the court can consider evidence of domestic violence. Stephen Small of Kankakee suffocated in a plywood box when a breathing tube running to the surface failed before a ransom could be paid.

Her attorneys argued Rish was coerced by ex-boyfriend Daniel Edwards into driving him and that she was unaware of his kidnapping plan even as he had her pick him up from the remote, wooded burial site and drive him between phone booths where he made ransom calls.

The attorneys argued her case is what Illinois legislators had in mind when they passed legislation in 2015 giving abuse victims who had been sentenced to prison for crimes a break on their sentences.

In its ruling Thursday, the court noted the state maintained the trial court’s sentence rested on the “horrific nature of the crime in which (defendant) played an integral part” and that the evidence of domestic violence could not overcome the seriousness of the crime.

“This is the first time in 33½ years that she’s gotten a ruling that may result in her sentence being reduced from natural life,” Margaret Byrne, a private attorney who is representing Rish pro bono, told the Chicago Tribune.

Rish was sentenced to life in prison after a jury trial in 1988. Edwards was convicted and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to a life term by then-Gov. George Ryan as Illinois moved toward ending the death penalty.

Rish, an inmate at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, has maintained her innocence through more than three decades of legal losses. In July 2019, Kankakee County Judge Michael Sabol rejected Rish’s petition for a re-sentencing, rejecting the argument a new sentence was warranted because of a change in Illinois law.



Federal prosecutors in Maryland are seeking a 35-year prison sentence for a gang member who pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of a 16-year-old boy who was stabbed and cut more than 100 times before his body was set on fire.

A judge is scheduled to sentence Kevin Alexis Rodriguez-Flores on July 19. He pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise and conspiracy to destroy and conceal evidence.

Rodriguez admitted that he was a member of Mara Salvatrucha street gang, or MS-13 for short, and took part in the March 2019 killing over the mistaken belief that the boy, a fellow member, was working with police, prosecutors said in a court filing on Friday. The boy was beaten and stabbed or cut roughly 144 times by Rodriguez and others whom he believed to be his friends, they wrote.

The killing took place during an MS-13 clique meeting in the Hyattsville, Maryland, home of the clique’s leader. After the boy’s killing, clique members took his body to a secluded location in Stafford County, Virginia, and set it on fire, according to prosecutors.

Rodriguez was 20 when a grand jury indicted him and three other men in July 2020 on charges stemming from the boy’s killing. He was the first and only defendant to plead guilty as of Monday.

U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis has set a Sept. 17 deadline for the U.S. Justice Department to notify the court whether it intends to seek the death penalty against co-defendant Jose Domingo Ordonez-Zometa. The indictment describes Ordonez as the MS-13 clique leader and claims he ordered the boy’s killing after questioning him about a recent encounter with police.

Rodriguez came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2016, living with his mother in New Jersey before he moved to Virginia approximately a month before the killing.

The plea agreement between prosecutors and Rodriguez calls for a sentence ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment, but Xinis isn’t bound by that recommendation.


Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction Wednesday after finding an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.

Cosby has served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia. He had vowed to serve all 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.

The 83-year-old Cosby, who was once beloved as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting the Temple University employee at his suburban estate.

He was charged in late 2015, when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from her lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.

The trial judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial, when the jury deadlocked. However, he then allowed five other accusers to testify at the retrial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women.

Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. The law on prior bad act testimony varies by state, though, and the ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors did not immediately say if they would appeal or seek to try Cosby for a third time.

The justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.

In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.


The husband of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren pleaded not guilty to criminal drug and weapons charges Thursday, a day after a police search of the house he shares with the mayor.

Timothy Granison appeared via video in Rochester City Court from the Monroe County jail, where he spent the night following his arrest on Wednesday.

State police troopers spent several hours searching the home of Granison and Warren on Wednesday, saying it was part of a criminal investigation but disclosing no details at the time.

Troopers closed off the block around Warren’s home with police tape and could be seen taking items from the residence, according to video recordings by journalists at the scene.

Attorney John DeMarco, in entering not guilty pleas for Granison, asked that the charges be dismissed, saying they were not sufficiently presented, local media reported from the courtroom.

Judge Jacqueline Sisson, who came from nearby Canandaigua City Court to preside over the hearing, denied the request but said it could be resubmitted in writing.

Granison was released without bail pending his next court appearance June 21.


The state supreme court has upheld the murder conviction and 40-year sentence for man who killed his wife with a shotgun blast in their Windham home.

The Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday unanimously rejected Noah Gaston’s contention that COVID-19 restrictions violated his constitutional rights by preventing him from confronting parties at his sentencing.

Gaston acknowledged killing his wife, Alicia, with a shotgun blast in 2016, but maintained that he thought she was an intruder.

The prosecution allowed the victim’s family and friends to testify by video at the sentencing while Gaston’s family and friends viewed the proceedings from a separate room at the courthouse to allow for social distancing during the pandemic.

“Anyone who wanted to address the court or access the proceeding was able to do so, despite the pandemic restrictions,” Justice Joseph Jabar wrote in the supreme court’s ruling.

The court also rejected Gaston’s argument that the sentence was too long and that the judge wrongly concluded he waived his right to religious privilege when he told a third party about conversations with church members.

The church members, who picked Gaston up at the local police station after his wife died, said he told them he saw a figure he thought was an intruder before he fired. But he also told them that was the only story he could tell if he wanted to see his kids again, according to the police affidavit.

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