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In Oklahoma's first execution since botched lethal injection in 2015, John Grant convulses, vomits repeatedly before dying

John Marion Grant
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
John Marion Grant

For the first time in nearly seven years, Oklahoma has executed a death row inmate.

John Marion Grant was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 4:21 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

The 60-year-old was sentenced to death for stabbing and killing prison kitchen worker Gay Carter in 1998 while Grant was serving a sentence for armed robbery.

Five media members were selected by a random draw to witness the execution. They recounted that Grant convulsed two dozen times and vomited multiple times after the administration of midazolam, the first of the three drug cocktail.

The Associated Press reports experts said that someone vomiting while being executed is rare.

"Based on the reporting of the eyewitnesses to the execution, for the third time in a row, Oklahoma’s execution protocol did not work as it was designed to. This is why the Tenth Circuit stayed John Grant’s execution and this is why the U.S. Supreme Court should not have lifted the stay," said Dale Baich, one of the attorneys for the death row plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the state. "There should be no more executions in Oklahoma until we go to trial in February to address the state’s problematic lethal injection protocol."

The federal lawsuit brought on by more than two dozen death row inmates challenges the constitutionality of Oklahoma's lethal injection procedures.

Grant and death row inmate Julius Jones had won a brief stay of execution by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, using the argument they should not be executed before the lawsuit goes to court.

But just hours before Grant was to be executed, the U.S. Supreme court lifted the stay and the death sentence was carried out.

"At least now we are starting to get justice for our loved ones," Carter’s daughter, Pamela Gay Carter, said in a statement. "The death penalty is about protecting any potential future victims. Even after Grant was removed from society, he committed an act of violence that took an innocent life. I pray that justice prevails for all the other victims’ loved ones. My heart and prayers go out to you all."

Jones is the next death row inmate set to be executed on Nov. 18, but will his request for clemency heard by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Tuesday. In September, the board recommended that Gov. Kevin Stitt commute his death sentence to life in prison. Stitt said a few weeks later that he wouldn't do so until after the clemency hearing.

A torturous history

Executions had been on pause in Oklahoma following the near-execution of Richard Glossip in 2015, and the botched lethal injections of Charles Warner in 2015 and Clayton Lockett in 2014.

Glossip was scheduled to die in September 2015. Then-Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a last-minute stay of execution for Glossip when it was discovered the Department of Corrections received a shipment of potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, as required in the state's execution protocol.

An autopsy report revealed the state used the wrong drug — again, potassium acetate — to execute Warner in January 2015. According to witnesses, Warner said, "It feels like acid," and "My body is on fire" while being given the three-drug cocktail.

Lockett's April 2014 execution was also botched. A report issued after his death found that after trying for 51 minutes to find a vein, a phlebotomist misplaced the IV line intended to deliver the lethal cocktail of drugs directly into Lockett's bloodstream. Instead, the cocktail was delivered to the surrounding tissue.

Lockett writhed on the gurney and mumbled before being pronounced dead 43 minutes after the procedure began. An investigation later revealed that the faulty insertion of the intravenous line and lack of training of the execution team contributed to the problems.

In January 2014, Oklahoma executed Michael Lee Wilson by lethal injection. Shortly after his execution started, Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning."

In Ohio that same month, the controversial execution of Dennis McGuire took place with a new cocktail of lethal injection drugs. It took 24 minutes for him to die, and he gasped for air and made snorting and choking sounds for at least 10 minutes.

Drug cocktail problems

In 2020, NPR reviewed more than 200 autopsies of people who have been executed by lethal injection. In 84% of the cases showed signs of pulmonary edema, which can induce the feeling of suffocation or drowning. Those findings were similar across states and different drug protocols.

Doctors who spoke with NPR raised concerns that many inmates are not being properly anesthetized and are therefore feeling the suffocating and drowning sensation brought on by pulmonary edema.

The original intention of lethal injection was to make executions in the U.S. more humane than electrocutions or firing squads. Dr. Jay Chapman, then-Oklahoma's state medical examiner, developed the original formula for lethal injection in 1977,

But, as Laura Sullivan reported for NPR in 2014, Chapman's protocol has since encountered many previously unseen issues, including doctors and nurses skilled in the art of finding veins no longer agreeing to participate; drugmakers in Europe refusing to allow their drugs to be used; unregulated pharmacies having to replicate the drugs, and prison staff being made responsible for the dosage and the administration.

Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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