Critics say inmates are still suffering significantly before they are executed, despite promises of reform
Oklahoma killed its first death row inmate in six years, even as critics said the state still hasn’t learned its lesson after temporarily pausing executions following a number of catastrophic mistakes.
John Grant, who was given a death sentence in 1999 for fatally stabbing cafeteria worker Gay Carter while in prison, was executed via lethal injection on Thursday afternoon.
Attendees said he yelled, convulsed and writhed before eventually falling unconscious.
“He began convulsing about two-dozen times, full-body convulsions, and began to vomit, which covered his face and began to run down his neck and the side of his face,” said Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy, one of the witnesses to the execution.
Critics said his apparent struggle during the process was one reason why the state should not have resumed executions with a three-drug cocktail it had used in a number of flawed executions in 2014 en 2015.
“Oklahoma’s execution protocol did not work as it was designed to,” public defender Dale Baich said in a statement on Thursday.
Advocates condemned the latest execution. “They still can’t seem to get it right,” tweeted Death Penalty Action, which protested outside of the prison holding Oklahoma’s execution chamber on Thursday.
'John Grant convulsed, shouted in pain, and threw up. It is way past time to stop executions.”
Die American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma, intussen, said the killing was “shameful” and the result of “above and beyond” efforts of state officials to press forward.
Critics pointed to Grant’s apparent struggle before he died as further proof the state still was not executing people humanely.
The execution process is said to be so cruel and painful that it violates the US Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“This is why the Tenth Circuit stayed John Grant’s execution and this is why the US Supreme Court should not have lifted the stay,” Mr Baich said. “There should be no more executions in Oklahoma until we go to trial in February to address the state’s problematic lethal injection protocol.”
Mr Baich was referring to a 32-person lawsuit slapped against the state in which he represented Grant, as well as a number of other inmates. The lawsuit alleges its lethal injection protocol fails to properly sedate inmates.
While the trial is scheduled for February 2022, the US Supreme Court on Thursday held that executions against plaintiffs like Grant could continue anyway.
The decision had overturned a ruling on Wednesday from a federal appeals court that the lawsuit should play out before the state could execute anyone involved in it.
“They risk being unable to present what may be a viable Eighth Amendment claim to the federal courts before they are executed using the method they have challenged,” the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit had written in its ruling.
Oklahoma is scheduled to execute another plaintiff, Julius Jones, before the 2022 trial will take place.
The state’s execution chamber, one of the nation’s most prolific, had gone unused for years, until the Thursday decision from the Supreme Court.
The state had not executed anyone after the incidents in 2014 en 2015, where two men were killed using the incorrect lethal injection drugs, resulting in visible suffering. A third man, Richard Glossip, nearly met the same fate, before the execution was called off with hours to spare.
In 2020, Oklahoma announced it would resume executions using the same three-drug mixture for its lethal injection protocol, but with added safeguards.
“The Department of Corrections has addressed concerns regarding carrying out the death penalty and is prepared to follow the will of the people of Oklahoma, as expressed in state statute, and the orders of the courts by carrying out the execution of inmates sentenced to death by a jury of their peers,” agency director Scott Crow said on Tuesday in a press release.
Critics have argued the state still isn’t doing enough to ensure the human treatment of those it executes.
They have raised concerns that the state does not publicly identify where it sources its drugs and that it continues to use the drug Midazolam, which the constitutional lethal injection suit argues, doesn’t suitably sedate those being executed.
The governor’s office and Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment about John Grant’s execution.
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.