Dak Prescott is using his platform to advocate for the release of Julius Jones, a Black death row inmate who has been imprisoned for over 20 years.
“As a black man in this country right now,” the Dallas Cowboys quarterback wrote in a letter (obtained by TIME) to Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, “I experience injustices firsthand day in and day out, even as an athlete with ‘celebrity status.'”
The letter, which was sent on August 6, advocates for the release of Jones, who was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, a white businessman from Oklahoma City during a carjacking.
“Current events are shining a much-needed light on deep-seated prejudices and systemic mistreatment of black people, and it is my sincere hope that the cultural movements of today will lead to significant social changes that will create a better tomorrow,” Prescott writes. “To that end, you all are in the unique position of being able to make a direct impact by addressing a specific miscarriage of justice.”
The national conversation surrounding criminal justice reform has taken a dramatic step forward since the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others who were killed at the hands of police in Louisville and Minneapolis, respectively. The deaths have sparked nationwide protest and a renewed focus on convictions, some of which produced overly harsh sentences.
“After reviewing the facts of the Julius Jones case, I firmly believe the wrong person is being punished for this terrible crime; furthermore, an evaluation of the process that led to Mr. Jones’ conviction raises serious legal and ethical concerns,” Prescott continued in his letter. “I implore you to right this wrong. Please don’t let another innocent black man die from the systemic mistreatment that has plagued our nation for far too long.”
Julius Jones’ case received widespread attention after a Viola Davis-produced docu-series called The Last Defense aired in 2018. It covered the case in-depth, while the Julius Jones Coalition helped draw more than 6 million signatures to a Change.org petition calling for Jones to be freed.
Other high-profile athletes, including former Oklahoma University basketball stars Blake Griffin, Trae Young and Buddy Hield, ex-Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Browns quarterback at former OU star Baker Mayfield have all written letters to state officials on Jones’ behalf.
“It’s important for Oklahomans to know that people outside of the state are paying attention to Julius’ case and concerned about the injustices that occurred,” says Dale Baich, Jones’ defense attorney, according to TIME.
(Photo: Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)