Published on: Friday, October 29, 2021

At 4:25 pm CST on Thursday, October 28, John Marion Grant became the first inmate executed by Oklahoma after nearly seven years. The execution occurred shortly after the United States Supreme Court vacated a Tenth Circuit stay of execution. The Tenth Circuit had entered an injunction in a long running lawsuit enjoining the imminent execution of John Grant and Julius Jones before, in the words of the Tenth Circuit, they are able to “present what may be a viable Eighth Amendment claim to the federal courts." The Supreme Court’s one sentence order, entered over the dissent of Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, granted Oklahoma’s emergency request to vacate the stay without explanation. 

According to news reports, almost immediately after the first drug was administered (midazolam), John Grant began “convulsing, so much so that his entire upper back repeatedly lifted off the gurney.”  As convulsions continued, Grant vomited several times and medical staff had to wipe away the vomit from the still-breathing Grant.

The sedative midazolam has been at the center of a years-long lawsuit brought by more than two dozen Oklahoma death row inmates arguing that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol poses a risk of severe pain in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  That lawsuit arose from two botched executions in 2014 and 2015 and was scheduled for trial in February 2022, after the district court had already determined based on a robust summary judgment record that there are issues of fact concerning whether the Oklahoma’s execution method presents a substantial risk of severe pain, and whether alternative methods proposed by the plaintiffs are feasible and readily implemented. On April 29, 2014, a botched execution that used midazolam left Clayton Locket writing and clenching his teeth, causing Oklahoma prison officials to halt the execution before his eventual death from a heart attack. On April 15, 2015, after being administered midazolam, Charles Warner said, “My body is on fire.”  Witnesses reported they saw twitching in Warner’s neck about three minutes after the execution started that lasted for about seven minutes before he stopped breathing. But since Oklahoma’s second drug is a paralytic that would have prevented Warner from moving, “acting as a chemical veil,” according to his attorney, “we will never know whether he experienced the intense pain of suffocation and burning that would result from injecting a conscious person with vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.”

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