UPDATE: In a 3-2 vote by the Pardon and Parole Board on Tuesday, Grant’s clemency was denied. Without intervention from the governor, on Oct. 28 he will be the first person executed in Oklahoma since 2015.
The first of seven Oklahoma death row inmates scheduled for death could be executed as early as this month.
Attorneys for John Marion Grant, a Black man, have filed a petition for clemency with the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board just weeks away from his Oct. 28 execution date. If denied, Grant will be the first person the state of Oklahoma executes since a series of botched procedures six years ago that resulted in a pause on all state-sanctioned murders.
Former Gov. Mary Fallin halted all executions in the state after Clayton Lockett’s botched 2014 execution and Charles Warner’s in 2015. In Lockett’s case, the nurse administering the IV didn’t stick the needle directly into the bloodstream. The drug cocktail instead flooded surrounding tissue. It resulted in Lockett experiencing extreme agony before dying of a heart attack nearly 45 minutes later.
In the case of Warner, officials admitted to using the wrong combination of drugs. Both men were African Americans in a state where Black people make up less than 10% of the population.
Now, Oklahoma prepares to resume executions. The first two scheduled for death are also Black men, John Marion Grant, and Julius Jones, respectively.
John Grant’s clemency petition
Sentenced to death in 1998, Grant’s case differs significantly from the case of high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones. Jones has maintained his innocence while on death row for over 20 years and will speak at his Oct. 26 clemency hearing.
Attorneys for John Grant, on the other hand, aren’t arguing that he’s innocent. Officials charged him with capital murder in the stabbing and killing of 58-year-old Dick Conner Correctional Center employee Gay Carter. Rather, John Grant’s petition for clemency points to years of abuse while in the custody of state-run juvenile centers.
Sarah Jernigan is the assistant federal public defender for western Oklahoman. She said she hopes her client’s clemency hearing will go their way.
“I think first and foremost we would say there is really nothing to be gained from executing John Grant at this point. We believe he is a person deserving of mercy, we believe the state of Oklahoma has instituted a clemency procedure for that very reason: to bestow mercy. We believe Mr. Grant is one deserving of mercy more than ever,” Jernigan told Public Radio Tulsa.
John Grant had an abusive family upbringing
She says the abuse Grant received at the hands of family and state-run facilities make a strong case for clemency.
Documents from attorneys illustrate he was born in 1961 Ada, Oklahoma. He shared a home with eight other siblings and a neglectful, abusive mother. As an infant, Grant’s six-year-old sister would take care of him in a house full of dirty floors and no running water.
Grant’s mother would often beat her children, sometimes even when they were sleeping, giving him scars all over his body, his attorneys say were confirmed by Oklahoma Department of Corrections documents.
As a pre-teen living in crime and poverty-riddled housing projects in OKC, Grant would be eventually sent to multiple juvenile facilities for boys where he, like other children, experienced horrific levels of abuse. A 1981 report from 20/20 won a Peabody Award for its coverage of the sexual assault, torture and death that occurred in Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system.
Grant grew up in abusive state-run facilities
Before Oklahoma established a foster care system, children like Grant were placed in rural facilities.
According to documents from his attorneys, “Whippings, rapes, and assaults were routinely inflicted on the children in these institutions, including Mr. Grant, who was there during the height of the abuse in the late 1970s.”
In 1982, a report titled “Oklahoma Shame” recounted how “state employees were subjecting abandoned, orphaned, emotionally disturbed and delinquent children to a Dickensian kind of terror.”
According to the report, high level officials were aware of the abuse. The report found that children were:
- Hogtied with handcuffs, belly chains and leg irons for extended periods, sometimes being suspended from the floor.
- Hospitalized with broken bones after being attacked by adult staff.
- Forced to commit sex acts with adult staff.
- Recruited to join prostitution rings.
- Provided with illegal drugs by supervisors.
- Thrown into 5-by-8 solitary confinement cells for weeks at a time.
- Supervised by sexual offenders who weren’t properly vetted.
Attorneys argue state holds some responsibility for Grant’s murder of Gay Carter
Attorneys for death row inmate John Grant say he experienced most, if not each of these abuses. They say it was this abuse at the hands of the state, combined with a neglectful parent, that led to Grant’s killing of Gay Carter.
While Grant was serving time for armed robbery, he stabbed and killed Carter, a prison kitchen manager in 1998. Motivation for the killing was unclear at the time. Some reports indicated Grant had recently lost his job in the kitchen due to fighting with another inmate, according to The Oklahoman.
“He has fervently wrestled with his own actions and failing since the time of this crime, seeking to understand and better himself more so than any other client I have represented,” Jernigan said in the clemency petition. “Mr. Grant continues to question why and how he did such a thing. He grapples with the question of whether redemption and forgiveness can truly exist – especially for someone such as himself.”
Petition highlights ineffective counsel at trial, horrific childhood
Moreover, attorneys for Grant have also pointed to ineffective counsel as grounds for the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend clemency. Two lawyers assigned to his case at the time of trial had recently divorced. One of his lawyers later admitted to self-medicating their bipolar disorder with drugs and alcohol at the time of the trial. That lawyer was later suspended and disbarred for their unprofessional conduct.
Lastly, the petition points to an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision. It asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider Grant’s abusive childhood upbringing.
Specifically, it asked the Appeals Court to reconsider whether trial counsel’s failure to investigate and present evidence of Mr. Grant’s horrific childhood affected the outcome of his trial.
Instead, despite the dissent of Judge Charles Chapel, the OCCA concluded that Mr. Grant had “chosen” his childhood, and that learning of his life history would not have made a difference to even one juror, according to the clemency petition. Grant’s petition includes statements from two jurors who say that if trial counsel had presented available evidence about the crime or Mr. Grant’s life history, they might have voted for a life sentence.
African Americans are overrepresented among Oklahoma death row inmates
“Mr. Grant is extremely remorseful, he’s nearly blind, he’s in his 60’s. He seeks only to live out his days in peace. It’s a peace that has escaped him his entire life due in large part to the subhuman treatment he received as a child at the hands of state actors,” assistant federal public defender Jernigan recently said.
Seven men in total are currently scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma. Three of the seven inmates are African American. This means over 40% of the men scheduled for execution are Black despite Black people making up less than 10% of the state’s population. The alarming statistics add weight to the 2017 report which affirmed racial bias in Oklahoma’s death penalty system.
In Oklahoma, state prosecutors are more likely to call for the death penalty in a crime where the victim is White and less likely to call for it in when the victim is an ethnic minority, according to a 2017 report from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
The clemency hearing for John Marion Grant, the first to face state execution, will take place Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 9 a.m. in front of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.