Oklahoma carries out first execution in six years

OKLAHOMA CITY (REUTERS) – Oklahoma on Thursday (Oct 28) conducted its first execution in six years, putting John Grant to death after the US Supreme Court overturned a stay of execution for him and another man, even as public support for the death penalty diminishes.

Grant, 60, died by lethal injection at 4.21pm (5.21am Singapore time on Friday), the state said.

His death marked the first in Oklahoma since three botched executions in 2014 and 2015, using a three-drug protocol that has been questioned as possibly causing a slow and painful death.

After Grant died on Thursday, his lawyer Sarah Jernigan said he had tried to atone and understand his actions “more than any other client I have worked with.”

She said he was a victim of brutality both at home and at the hands of Oklahoma’s youth detention system, and did not receive mental health treatment, ultimately murdering prison employee Gay Carter in 1998 while incarcerated for another crime.

The last-minute intervention from the US Supreme Court overturned a stay of execution for Grant and Julius Jones, who is scheduled to be put to death on Nov 18.

Jones, 41, was sentenced to death for murdering an insurance executive gunned down in his driveway.

He has maintained his innocence for two decades in a case that has attracted attention from celebrities and anti-death penalty activists.

In ordering the state to delay the executions on Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court had unfairly denied the two men delays granted to numerous other defendants pursuing a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol.

But the Supreme Court on Thursday vacated that stay without commenting further on the case.

The case was accepted for the court by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the order said. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate.

In a novel approach, lawyers for Grant and five other condemned prisoners had argued that the state violated their right to religious liberty by asking them to name an acceptable method of execution, which the prisoners said forced them to participate in their own deaths.

They also argued that Oklahoma’s newest lethal injection protocol is too similar to a prior method that led to three botched executions.

The planned executions run counter to trends in most US states, where the use of capital punishment is declining.

Thirty-six US states and the District of Columbia have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in the past 10 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, which tracks executions.

Oklahoma’s planned executions “are occurring against the backdrop of ongoing litigation over whether they’re even constitutional, and historically low rates of new death sentences nationwide,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre.

Conservative states including Texas and Missouri, however, have bucked that trend, as did the conservative administration of Republican former US President Donald Trump, which resumed federal executions in 2020 after a 17 year hiatus, putting 13 prisoners to death beginning with Daniel Lewis Lee on July 14.

The local archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes the death penalty, asked followers to pray for the condemned men and for an end to capital punishment during the time set for the execution.

“Certainly some of the crimes committed were unspeakable gruesome and indefensible,” said Paul Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. “But I would say (the condemned person) is still a human being, it’s still a human person created in the likeness of God and therefore endowed with a dignity that cannot be taken away.”

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