Federal trial for Oklahoma’s execution protocol underway

by Mike Creef, Staff Writer
Federal trial for Oklahoma’s execution protocol underway
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The federal trial for Oklahoma’s execution protocol began this week with U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot overseeing the case.

Oklahoma’s execution protocol has come under heavy scrutiny after witnesses described the October execution of John Grant as a “botched execution.”

A moratorium was placed on the death penalty by Governor Mary Fallin over 5 years ago after the state botched two executions in a row and was hours away from botching a third.

Botched Executions

Clayton Lockett writhed in agony for nearly 45 minutes in 2014 after a nurse improperly administered the problematic drug protocol. The state was unable to find the paralytic drug necessary for ensuring Lockett did not feel pain during his death.

According to a medic who was present at Mr. Lockett’s death, “one of the executioners said, ‘He’s trying to get up off the table’ and I thought, ‘What?’” The medic added, “The warden was very upset. Nobody wants a prisoner in an execution situation to suffer.”

In 2015, Charles Warner was put to death by Oklahoma. Although Mr. Warner died without incident, an autopsy later found he was injected with the wrong drug to stop his heart.

Richard Glossip was hours away from his 2015 execution when Gov. Fallin stayed the procedure for 37 days. Fallin said the state received a drug for the execution it is not authorized to use.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor broke the moratorium in 2021, proceeding with the execution of John Grant, despite Grant listed as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state’s problematic execution protocol.

Grant was executed with the exact same protocol of the prior two executions. Media witness Sean Murphy with the Associated Press said “John Grant convulsed two dozen times as midazolam was administered. Then vomited. Then convulsed more. He was then declared unconscious. Then the second round of drugs were administered and he was declared dead at 4:21pm. His last words were a string of profanities.”

AP’s Murphy said he has watched 14 executions, and has never seen an inmate vomit. He said the body convulsions were similar to Clayton Lockett’s execution.

oklahoma botched execution department of corrections

Left: Associated Press journalist Sean Murphy details convulsions and vomiting that death row detainee John Grant underwent during his botched execution on Thursday, October 28, 2021. (Kassie McClung, ReadFrontier) Right: Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections Director Scott Crow said the execution occurred “without complications”. (OK.gov)

Federal Trial on Oklahoma’s execution protocol

The federal trial began this week with plaintiffs calling on expert testimony against the state’s execution protocol. 

OSU pharmacologist Dr. Craig Stevens testified Oklahoma’s protocol is “torturous.” He added that inmates likely feel “intense burning pain” as the last drug is injected stopping their heart. He said such pain would not be visible to witnesses due to the second drug, a muscle paralytic.

The first day ended with Florida Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Mark Edgar. He reviewed 32 execution autopsies. He said 27 showed signs of pulmonary edema, causing the lungs to fill with fluid. He said prisoners would feel “doom, panic, drowning, and asphyxiation.”

A photo of John Grant’s lungs were shown to the courtroom on day two of the federal trial, and it was bubbly with signs of pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs. Yet, state officials continue to fight to maintain Oklahoma’s execution protocol.

Dr. Mark Edgar said the only way for the froth to occur is while the “prisoner is alive and breathing.” He said edema can feel like drowning. “The cause is Midazolam,” Edgar said.

The state’s expert witnesses are set to testify on the third day and the case is expected to wrap up at the end of the week.

Information from Storme Jones of News 9 was used in this article.

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