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Lifting Six-Year Moratorium, Oklahoma Treats Witnesses to Convulsing and Vomiting Prisoner During Execution

by Keith Sanders 

Several journalists spoke out about what they witnessed during the execution by lethal injection of Oklahoma prisoner John Marion Grant on October 28, 2021, saying the 60-year-old convulsed over a dozen times and then began vomiting after the first drug, a sedative, was administered.

Sean Murphy and a retired fellow Associated Press reporter, Michael Graczyk, who had been present for some 450 executions, said that vomiting while being put to death was extremely rare. Murphy had never seen it happen before, and Graczyk reported only one other instance. 

While confined by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) on a 130-year sentence for armed robberies, Grant dragged a prison cafeteria worker, Gay Carter, into a mop closet, stabbing her sixteen times with a shank. For her killing, he was sentenced to death in 1999.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, DOC spokesperson Justin Wolf’s statement insisted Grant’s execution was “carried out in accordance with [DOC] protocols and without complications.”

DOC Director Scott Crow added that the on-site doctor advised him that “regurgitation is not a completely uncommon instance or occurrence with someone that’s undergoing sedation.” 

Carter’s daughter, Pamela Gay Carter, said in a statement, “at least now we are starting to get justice for our loved ones.”

Oklahoma has a history of botched executions. Grant’s killing was the first after the state lifted a six-year moratorium because of mix-ups with its three-drug execution cocktail, the sedative midazolam, vecuronium bromide to induce paralysis, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. After flirting with the notion of using nitrogen gas to execute prisoners, Oklahoma reinstated the same three-drug lethal cocktail that preceded the moratorium.

Three other executions have followed Grant’s without incident, the most recent on February 17, 2022, when Gilbert Ray Postelle, 35, was murdered for murdering four people on Memorial Day 2005 at a Del City trailer park to avenge a motorcycle crash that left his father brain damaged. Authorities said the victim was not actually at fault for that crash, however.

Before that, on January 27, 2022, the state killed Donald Grant, 46, who was no relation to John Grant. Donald Grant—who had volunteered to die by firing squad—was sentenced to death for killing two women, Brenda McElyea, 29, and Felicia Suzette Smith, 43, after they witnessed a robbery he committed at the La Quinta Inn in Del City in July 2001.

Bigler Jobe Stouffer II, 79, was the other prisoner recently executed, just 24 days after the state’s Pardon and Parole Board (PPB) voted to recommend clemency for him. At his 1985 trial for the murder of an elementary school teacher, his attorney described him as “a 42-year-old man, going on 15.” He won a retrial for ineffective assistance of counsel but was sentenced to death again in 2003.

In 2015, the state put a moratorium on executions after officials preparing to kill prisoner Richard Glossip discovered they had received the wrong lethal drug. It was later determined that the same wrong drug had been used to execute a prisoner that year. In 2014, another prisoner, Clayton Lockett, struggled for forty-three minutes on a gurney before finally succumbing to death. 

Postelle and another condemned prisoner, Julius Jones, had their executions stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on October 27, 2021, but the U.S. Supreme Court lifted those stays in a 5-3 decision two days later. PPB then voted to recommend clemency for Jones, whose sentence was commuted to life without the possibility parole by Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) just hours before he was scheduled to die on November 18, 2021.

But PPB declined to recommend clemency for John Grant on October 5, 2021. Just over three weeks later, he entered the death chamber shouting “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” according to witnesses, who also reported he yelled expletives at staff. 

Prison officials insisted that Grant never expressed any kind of pain or discomfort during the execution, noting only that the condemned prisoner appeared agitated prior to his execution. 

Dale Baich, a federal public defender in Phoenix representing over a dozen Oklahoma death-row prisoners who filed the suit that paused executions for six years, argued that resuming executions with those three drugs posed a risk of causing unconstitutional pain and suffering. 

On February 23, 2022, the federal court for the Western District of Oklahoma partially granted Baich’s motion to allow expert medical testimony, limiting it to the four recent executions at trial the following week. See: Glossip v. Chandler, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31585 (W.D. Okla.). That trial has now concluded, and PLN will report the Court’s decision when it is comes down. Baich is joined in representing Plaintiffs by Oklahoma City attorney Gary S. Peterson and counsel from the New York City firm of Crowell & Moring LLP. See: Glossip v. Chandler, USDC (W.D. Okla.), Case No. 5:14-cv-00665.  

Sources: Associated Press, KOKH, KRJH, NBC News, New York Times, Oklahoman, Public Radio Tulsa, Tulsa World

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