A man convicted of murder in the United States experienced convulsions and vomited as he was executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma, where the practice is being challenged in court.
John Grant, 60, was the first inmate to be put to death in Oklahoma in six years following a series of botched executions – possibly related to the use of the sedative midazolam – led to a temporary moratorium on capital punishment in the state.
Grant, a Black man, was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of a white prison cafeteria worker, Gay Carter.
Lawyers for Grant had argued that the use of midazolam during the execution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, violating his constitutional rights.
The Oklahoma attorney general’s office, however, asked the Supreme Court to vacate stays that had been put on the execution by a lower court. The nation’s highest court did so hours before Grant’s scheduled execution on Thursday, with the three liberal justices objecting.
Journalists who witnessed the execution said at a news conference that Grant had vomited and experienced full-body convulsions about two dozen times before he was pronounced dead. The reaction began after midazolam, the first drug administered in the three-drug process, had been injected.
Two members of the execution team wiped the vomit from Grant’s face and neck shortly after. He was declared unconscious about 15 minutes after receiving the midazolam and declared dead six minutes after that.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center, told The Associated Press news agency he had “never heard of or seen” the reactions reported by observers.
“That is notable and unusual,” he said.
Michael Graczyk, a retired AP reporter who has witnessed about 450 executions, told the news agency he could recall only one instance of a person vomiting as they were put to death.
Still, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said on Thursday Grant’s execution went as planned.
“Inmate Grant’s execution was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ protocols and without complication,” communications director Justin Wolf said in a statement.
A lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols is scheduled to go to trial in February 2022, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals had put executions on hold in the state pending a ruling in the case.
Dale Baich, a lawyer for some of the death row inmates in that suit, said witness accounts of Grant’s lethal injection show Oklahoma’s death penalty protocol is not working as it was designed.
“This is why the US Supreme Court should not have lifted the stay,” Baich said in a statement.
“There should be no more executions in Oklahoma until we go [to] trial in February to address the state’s problematic lethal injection protocol.”
Oklahoma had one of the country’s busiest death chambers until problems in 2014 and 2015 forced a moratorium on executions.
Richard Glossip was just hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realised they received the wrong lethal drug.
It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.
The drug mix-ups followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection.
Another Oklahoma death row inmate, Julius Jones, a 41-year-old Black man, is scheduled to be executed on November 18 for the 1999 shooting of a white businessman.
Jones has consistently proclaimed his innocence and his case has attracted the attention of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield who have said he was wrongly convicted.