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Inmate vomits, convulses during Oklahoma execution, its first in six years

Oklahoma carried out its first execution in more than six years on Thursday. John Marion Grant, 60, died by lethal injection after the Supreme Court reversed a federal appeals court's stay of his execution.

Agence France-Presse reported that journalists who witnessed the execution told a news conference Grant vomited and had convulsions.

The six-year gap was the result of concerns over the drugs the state was using to put inmates to death.  

"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," said Dale Baich, one of the attorneys for the death-row plaintiffs. "This is why the Tenth 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."

But The Associated Press said Department of Corrections spokesman Justin Wolf told it in an email that the execution "was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma Department of Corrections' protocols and without complication."

The AP cites observers as saying inmates vomiting while being executed is extremely rare. Michael Graczyk, a retired AP reporter who still covers executions for the AP as a freelancer and has witnessed about 450 executions said Thursday he could only remember one time when someone vomited during the procedure.

In a 5-3 vote, the Supreme Court earlier Thursday ruled the executions of Grant and another death row inmate, Julius Jones, could move forward. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, while Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the decision.

Jones, whose execution is scheduled for November 18, still has a clemency hearing with the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday.

"Executions will go forward in Oklahoma despite significant questions regarding the constitutionality of the state's execution protocol," Baich said in a statement earlier Thursday.

The Supreme Court took up the case after a federal appeals court temporarily halted the scheduled executions of the two Oklahoma inmates. 

According to the Wednesday ruling from the 10th Circuit Appeals Court, the three-judge panel found a stay was warranted after Grant and Jones challenged the state's lethal injection protocol and refused to identify another method which they preferred for their executions. The two had cited religious reasons, saying they could not partake in what they viewed as "suicide."

Death Row Appeal Oklahoma
Supporters of Julius Jones, who has been on death row in Oklahoma since 1999, march to the offices of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Thursday, February 25, 2021, in Oklahoma City. Sue Ogrocki / AP

However, Grant and Jones were punished for not choosing an alternative form of execution when U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot removed them from a federal lawsuit they had filed, along with 30 other death-row inmates, challenging Oklahoma's lethal injection protocols, the federal appeals court said. Grant and Jones were immediately scheduled to be executed despite that the Oklahoma attorney general said on-the-record plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit would not be executed while it was pending in the district court.

Meanwhile, 27 of the inmates who filed the lawsuit did identify another method for dying and were permitted to participate in the trial, which is scheduled to begin on February 28. Three other inmates who did not select an alternative method of execution were not part of Grant and Jones' challenge.

The federal appeals court ruled the district court had "abused its discretion" when it came to its ruling. Additionally, the appeals court said, "public interest favors a stay" because all death-row inmates who filed the lawsuit against Oklahoma should be treated equitably in the courts. 

Grant was on death row for the 1998 death of Gay Carter, a kitchen worker at a state prison. Meanwhile, Jones was convicted in the 1999 shooting death of Paul Howell, a businessman in Edmond.

Oklahoma has had a history of problematic executions. In 2014, it botched Clayton Lockett's execution. The following year, Charles Warner was executed using the wrong drug. Also in 2015, Oklahoma's governor called off Richard Glossip's execution when, at the last minute, the executioners discovered they were about to again use the wrong drug.

The state intends to use the same three drugs, including the risky sedative midazolam, previously used in the problematic executions of Lockett and Warner and the halted execution of Glossip. Oklahoma's protocol also continues to use a paralytic, which critics say is an unnecessary and dangerous aspect of the process that serves only to mask problems from public view.

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