United States: after six years of hiatus, Oklahoma resumes executions

The Supreme Court of the United States authorized, Thursday, October 28, Oklahoma to resume executions, after six years of hiatus, and to proceed with the injection of a lethal cocktail, suspected of causing excruciating suffering to condemned.

After receiving the green light, the prison authorities of this conservative southern state injected John Grant, a 60-year-old African-American, three substances, sentenced in 2000 to death for the murder of a prison employee.

His death was pronounced at 4:21 p.m. (11:21 p.m. KST) but the death row inmate was shaken by vomiting and convulsions during his execution. This protocol had already been applied in 2014 and 2015, but the apparent suffering of the detainees had led the state to declare a moratorium on executions.

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John Grant “Started convulsing shortly after the injection of the first product” said Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy, who witnessed the scene. According to him, the inmate convulsed about 20 times and vomited several times before passing away. “I witnessed fourteen executions, I had never seen that before”, added the journalist.

“Serious questions” on the conformity of the product

His ordeal immediately aroused strong criticism. “Oklahoma had sabotaged its last three execution attempts before his six-year hiatus, but apparently learned nothing from that experience.”, commented to Agence France-Presse Robert Dunham, who heads the Information Center on the Death Penalty.

“For the third time in a row, the Oklahoma execution protocol has not worked properly”, added Dale Baich, lawyer for several convicts, including John Grant. “There should be no more executions in Oklahoma before the trial begins in February”, which will address this specific point, he added.

“Prisoner Grant’s execution was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma Corrections protocols and without complications.”, defended himself in a statement Justin Wolf, the director of communication of the penitentiary services. The latter had affirmed, a few days ago, that their protocol was “Human and efficient”, and that the executions could resume.

Attorney Dale Baich, however, had pointed out that he remained “Serious questions” on the pain caused by this lethal cocktail and on its compliance with the American Constitution, which prohibits “Cruel and unusual punishments”.

On Wednesday, an appeals court ruled in favor of Mr. Baich and suspended the execution. But the authorities in Oklahoma immediately seized the Supreme Court of the United States to ask it to reverse this decision. Without explaining its reasons, the high court finally gave the green light to execution in extremis. Its three progressive judges, however, made it clear that they disagreed with the Conservative majority.

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Another execution scheduled for November

The contested protocol combines a sedative, midazolam, and an anesthetic, believed to prevent pain before the injection of potassium chloride at a lethal dose. It had been used in 2014 to execute Clayton Lockett, but the convict had agonized for forty-three minutes in apparent pain.

In 2015, another convict, Charles Warner, complained that his “Body was burning” before being extinguished, the executioners having used a non-conforming product. The same error almost happened again in September 2015 and an execution was postponed at the last minute.

Following these failures, a grand jury opened an investigation and the authorities agreed to suspend the application of the death penalty. In 2020, they finalized a new protocol and set several execution dates in 2021, starting with that of John Grant, who in 1998 killed a woman who worked in the prison cafeteria where he was serving a sentence for an armed robbery.

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Oklahoma also plans to execute on November 18 Julius Jones, a 41-year-old African-American, sentenced in 2002 to death for the murder of a white businessman whom he has always denied. His case was the subject of a documentary series, a podcast, and he is supported by numerous associations and personalities, such as Kim Kardashian, convinced of his innocence.

He lost all legal remedies, but the Oklahoma Pardons Office recommended that his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. The governor has not yet decided.

The World with AFP

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United States: after six years of hiatus, Oklahoma resumes executions