The state of Oklahoma has executed Donald Grant, a 46-year-old disabled Black man convicted of two murders, by lethal injection despite a lawsuit against the method.
Grant became the first person to be executed in 2022. He admitted to killing Brenda McElyea, 29, and Felicia Suzette Smith, 43, during a 2001 robbery to stop them from identifying him.
The Supreme Court denied a request for an emergency stay of execution on Wednesday while calls were made to end the death penalty.
Grant was executed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He had requested to be executed by firing squad but was denied.
The execution was carried out a month before the start of a federal lawsuit begins challenging the lethal injection drugs as an unconstitutional, cruel, and unusual punishment that makes people feel like they’re being “burned alive”.
Grant, who was diagnosed with mental health challenges, said he sought the $200 he stole during the robbery more than two decades ago to bail his girlfriend out of jail.
Before his execution, Grant said he regretted his actions and blamed the devil for the murders, according to the Mirror.
“First and foremost, I’d like to express my sincere deep regrets and remorse for my actions,” he said. “I know words can’t bring them back. I understand … I can’t change that. You know, I wish I could and everything.”
Ahead of his death, Grant requested a last meal consisting of sesame chicken, egg rolls, shrimp fried rice, and an apple fritter, according to The Sun. If there was no dessert, he requested three pints of strawberry ice cream.
His last words included “yo god I got this, I got this, it’s nothing”, before adding “I’ve got things to handle, no doubt, no doubt”. It was also reported that he chanted “Brooklyn for life”, among other things.
A small group of people protested the execution outside the jail. Grant’s lawyers argued during a clemency hearing in November that he was suffering from mental illness and brain damage and should be given mercy.
Grant said he felt “deep, sincere remorse”, adding in front of the board that he “can’t change” what happened. “If I could, I would, but I can’t change that.”
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 against recommending clemency.
More than 7,000 people signed a petition to halt the execution. “Donald Grant’s mental illness and congenital and acquired brain damage was so severe that it took five years for Mr Grant to be stabilised where he could somewhat assist his attorneys in his defence,” the petition stated.
“There was no assurance Mr Grant was even competent to be put on trial, but he was in 2005 and sentenced to death,” it added. “The jury who sentenced Mr Grant to death received limited evidence of his severe, documented mental illness.”
“The jury never saw pictures of Mr Grant’s visible brain damage or had an expert explain the impact this damage and his undisputed mental illness had on his crime and behaviour,” the document said.
So far, 23 states have abolished the death penalty.
“We have seen a growing movement, in the last year especially, of people calling for Oklahoma to abolish the death penalty,” statehouse Democrat Mauree Turner said last week. “And I want to give people a chance to express that on the ballot.”
“Nearly 200,000 more Oklahomans voted in the last election than in 2016, with more information, views around this issue are changing, and we should give people a chance to express those new beliefs,” she added as she filed a motion to put the issue of capital punishment on the ballot in November.
Grant’s attorney Susan Otto said before the execution that her client was “well aware” that he was going to die. “He is afraid, and he understands that he may die like John Grant. And he’s terrified of that,” she told KOCO.
Last October, Oklahoma performed its first executions after a six-year moratorium, and witnesses and critics say the killing was botched, as John Grant convulsed and vomited for minutes of “torture” on the execution table. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has said the execution followed protocols.
Grant had appealed to a series of federal courts, culminating in the Supreme Court, to hold off on his execution, seeking to join a long-running federal lawsuit from two dozen Oklahoma death row inmates challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols. A trial in the suit begins in federal court in late February.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected Grant’s request, following earlier rejects from federal appeals courts.
“The public will be ill-served if applicants are executed before a full opportunity to test the protocol’s legality,” attorneys for Grant and another death row inmate, Gilbert Postelle, said earlier this week in court.
The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.