MCALESTER, Okla. (KFOR) – The Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections confirmed on Friday that part of the drug cocktail used in the execution of John Grant caused the death row inmate to vomit and have other physical reactions, but despite eyewitness accounts, he says no complications occurred during the execution on Thursday.
Grant was executed at 4:21 p.m. Thursday for murdering Gay Carter, a kitchen supervisor at the Dick Conner Correctional Center, in 1998. He pulled her into a closet and stabbed her 16 times with a shank.
He is the first person put to death by the state since 2015, the year a moratorium was placed on death sentences because of two flawed executions that caused two Oklahoma death row inmates excruciating pain.
“This execution was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma statutes. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections followed policies and procedures without complication,” said ODOC Director Scott Crow.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, earlier this week, placed a stay on Grant’s execution as well as the execution of high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones after legal teams argued they had an agreement with former Attorney General Mike Hunter that no executions would take place for the time being because of an upcoming trial set for February. That trial will challenge whether Oklahoma’s execution protocol, the three-drug cocktail, is legal.
The State of Oklahoma appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, asking the High Court to vacate the stays of execution for Grant and Jones. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State on Thursday. Grant’s execution was carried out soon after.
Crow held a press conference on Friday, providing his account of the execution, as well as what occurred with Grant prior to him being put to death.
He said Grant was agitated before the execution.
“Because at that point in time we were actually under a court-ordered stay, awaiting a decision from the United States Supreme Court,” Crow said. “So, as the day progressed, inmate Grant continued to be extremely agitated to the point of becoming verbally abusive, using expletives throughout the day as the staff attempted to work with him through providing meals, through the restraint process and through the process of being escorted to the actual chamber.”
Grant’s agitation escalated when he was in the execution chamber. He shouted obscenities at ODOC staff and, at certain points, in the presence of witnesses who were in the designated witness area, according to Crow.
The lethal injection began at 4:09 p.m., when ODOC officials administered the first drug of the state’s three-drug protocol.
The state executed Grant using a controversial drug cocktail consisting of midazolam, a sedative, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Crow said he witnessed the execution, and that after the first drug was administered, Grant started to become sedated. He said Grant let out a gasp of air a few seconds later, then continued breathing and lightly snoring.
Grant’s reaction to the drug cocktail changed at 4:10 p.m., according to Crow.
“There’s different opinions for this – or different explanations as to what occurred next – but at 4:10 p.m., inmate Grant, in my opinion, started dry heaving prior to actually regurgitating while on the table,” Crow said. “There are some who have referred to that as convulsing.”
Witnesses told KFOR on Thursday that Grant convulsed around two-dozen times and vomited following the injection of midazolam. They said he continued breathing until after the second drug was administered.
Sean Murphy, an Associated Press reporter who witnessed Grant’s execution, as well as 14 previous executions, told KFOR on Thursday that he had never before seen an inmate vomit while being executed.
Murphy said Grant’s reaction to the lethal drug cocktail brought to mind the controversial 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett.
Crow said he conferred with a physician on site after Grant began dry heaving and regurgitating.
“He advised me that regurgitation is not a completely uncommon instance or occurrence with someone that’s undergoing sedation,” Crow said.
Crow said the physician told him that Grant was sedated, based on Grant’s behavior, as well as monitoring equipment’s observation of him.
Grant vomited for “approximately several seconds” while sedated, Crow said.
“I advised the physician that I wanted him to go in the room and actually tilt the inmate’s head and also wipe the inmate’s face for…simply from a humane perspective and from a dignity perspective to get the vomit off his face as we continued with the drug protocol,” Crow said.
The execution procedure was not stopped or inhibited at any point as Grant vomited.
Once the injection of midazolam was completed, the physician spent five minutes assessing Grant for consciousness. He rubbed Grant’s sternum and determined that he was unconscious. The remaining two parts of the lethal drug cocktail were then injected, according to Crow.
“There were no instances of any unusual behavior throughout the drug protocol other than the instance of the regurgitation,” Crow said.
The physician pronounced Grant dead at 4:21 p.m.
“It took 12 minutes to complete the execution process,” Crow said.
Pamela Gay Carter, Gay Carter’s daughter, issued the following statement after the execution:
“At least now we are starting to get justice for our loved ones. The death penalty is about protecting any potential future victims. Even after Grant was removed from society, he committed an act of violence that took an innocent life. I pray that justice prevails for the other victims’ loved ones. My heart and prayers go out to you all. Stay strong.”PAMELA GAY CARTER
ODOC officials issued a statement Thursday night saying that Grant was executed without complication. Crow elaborated on that statement on Friday.
“And the basis for that is that at no point through the protocol or administering the protocol were there any delays or any complications that prevented the protocol from being completed,” Crow said.
Crow stressed that the execution process was competed in accordance with state statute and department policy.
“And, at no point, other than the regurgitation, did inmate Grant express any discomfort. He did not express that he was in pain. He simply continued to shout expletives toward staff, at one point looked toward his arm and tried to determine which site the drugs were being passed through, flinched his arm and then laid his head back down, and was, what appeared to be, to have gone to sleep,” Crow said. “That’s really the process as it occurred that day. There’s not anything about what I just said that is overstated or understated. That’s exactly the occurrence, and I actually had a direct view or vision of the process, and that’s basically what happened.”
KFOR News asked Crow if he believed there was any inhumanity regarding Grant vomiting due to the midazolam injection, saying witness descriptions of Grant’s reaction to the drug were quite graphic and disturbing.
“I think any answer involving a medical procedure or reaction to a medical procedure is very, very unfortunate, and I will agree inmate Grant’s regurgitation was not pleasant to watch, but I do not believe it was inhumane, because at the point in time that he was regurgitating, according to the physician that was monitoring the process, inmate Grant was in fact sedated,” Crow said.
Crow said there are no planned changes to the state’s execution procedure. He also confirmed the same drug cocktail will be used on other death row inmates, including Jones, should his execution be carried out.
Jones is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 18, depending on what happens following his clemency hearing on Monday, Nov. 1.
A KFOR article from April 29, 2015, says the state began using midazolam in their execution cocktail after pharmaceutical companies refused to provide pentobarbital, the sedative formerly used to enforce the death penalty.
Concerns about Oklahoma’s execution cocktail arose after the 2014 execution of Lockett, who was sentenced to death for murdering 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman in 1999.
The combination of execution drugs administered to Lockett had never been used before. The procedure went awry as Lockett awoke from his unconscious state and twitched and convulsed on the table.
“The doctor checked the IV and reported the blood vein had collapsed, and the drugs had either absorbed into tissue, leaked out or both,” according to a previously released timeline.
Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.
The execution of Charles Warner in 2015 also had complications that caused immense pain.
The three-drug cocktail was administered to Warner, who raped and murdered 11-month-old Adrianna Walker in 1997.
Warner was heard saying, “It feels like acid,” and “My body is on fire,” during the execution.
An autopsy report said officials used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride to kill Warner.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 29, 2015, that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Criminal defense attorney Jacqui Ford blasted the State in October 2015, criticizing its execution procedure.
“I think we should be embarrassed,” Ford said. “We look like some backwoods rednecks, and this isn’t the way we should be perceived.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt issued the following statement Friday regarding the execution:
“The Department of Corrections carried out the law of the State of Oklahoma and delivered justice to Gay Carter’s family.”GOV. KEVIN STITT
The Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City, issued the following statement on Thursday, sharply criticizing Stitt and Attorney General John O’Connor for hurrying to resume executions.
“The unnecessary rush to restart executions in Oklahoma by the governor and attorney general is concerning and disappointing. Throughout our nation’s history we have justified the killing or mistreatment of our neighbors by lessoning their value as human beings – whether it is the unborn, aged, native populations, African Americans or those imprisoned. All human life is sacred. No matter how serious the crime committed, we do not forfeit the inherent dignity bestowed upon us by our Creator. There are other ways to administer just punishment without resorting to lethal measures. May God guide us as we work to end the use of the death penalty and build a society that truly chooses life in all situations. May He bring comfort to the family and friends of Gay Carter, and have mercy on the soul of John Grant.”THE REV. PAUL S. COAKLEY, ARCHBISHOP OF OKLAHOMA CITY