Death Penalty

Inmate convulses and vomits during lethal injection in state with history of problem executions

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Corridor in an abandoned penitentiary. Image from Shutterstock.

Oklahoma inmate John Marion Grant convulsed and vomited Thursday during an execution that happened after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay in a 5-3 vote.

Grant, 60, was the first person put to death in Oklahoma following a moratorium imposed after two executions went awry. He had full-body convulsions about two dozen times and vomited after he received the sedative midazolam, the first drug in the state’s three-drug execution cocktail.

The Associated Press, the New York Times and CNN have coverage.

Grant was declared unconscious about 15 minutes after he received the first drug and declared dead about six minutes after that, according to the AP.

Journalist Michael Graczyk, who provided coverage for the AP, has witnessed about 450 executions. He said he could remember only one other instance of someone vomiting during an execution.

Grant was put to death for killing a prison cafeteria worker in 1998.

The Supreme Court vacated stays of execution for Grant and another Oklahoma inmate, Julius Jones, Thursday. Dissenting Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have kept in place the stay granted by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Denver. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch did not participate in the decision.

Grant and Jones had argued that Oklahoma’s execution methods could cause severe pain. They also opposed a trial judge’s requirement that they choose their execution method by checking a box, arguing that doing so required them to violate their religious beliefs by dying by suicide.

Grant’s execution was the first that took place in Oklahoma since the state lifted a moratorium on executions in 2020. Jones is scheduled for execution Nov. 18.

In 2014, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett kicked and grimaced during a 43-minute execution, according to the Associated Press. He died of a heart attack; doctors said he wasn’t fully sedated, according to the New York Times. In a second execution, an autopsy suggested that Charles Frederick Warner may have received the wrong drug during his 18-minute execution in 2015.

The scheduled 2015 execution of a third inmate, Richard Glossip, was delayed after a doctor discovered that the wrong drug was supplied.

The Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in the execution process in 2015 in a case brought by Glossip and other inmates. The inmates had argued that the drug created an unacceptable risk of severe pain, and its use amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

States began using midazolam after death-penalty opponents pressured pharmaceutical companies to stop the supply of different drugs used executions.

The lawyer in the Glossip case, Dale Baich, is representing Oklahoma inmates who are challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols.

“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,” Baich said in a statement. “This is why the 10th Circuit stayed John Grant’s execution, and this is why the U.S. Supreme Court should not have lifted the stay. There should be no more executions in Oklahoma until we go trial in February to address the state’s problematic lethal injection protocol.”

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