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Capitol Insider: Flawed execution clouds outlook for planned executions in Oklahoma

John Marion Grant
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
John Marion Grant

Six years after pausing the administration of the death penalty in the state, Oklahoma carried out an execution on Thursday that did not go according to plan. During injection of the three-drug cocktail, inmate John Grant convulsed more than two dozen times and vomited, before losing consciousness and dying in the execution chamber. Witnesses described a gruesome sight, and the Grant execution casts doubt over the next executions the state is planning, including that of Julius Jones.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Oklahoma has returned to the execution business with the execution of John Marion Grant on Thursday. Grant died, but it did not go well. Again, the efficacy of the three-drug cocktail is being questioned and six more executions are scheduled over the next five months. The last time an execution went sideways in Oklahoma, the state stopped executions for six years. Where is this heading now?

Shawn Ashley: Well, this was Oklahoma's first execution since it rewrote its execution protocols following the problems in 2014 and 2015. The Department of Corrections’ position, expressed in a press release Thursday, was that Grant's execution took place without complication. But I suspect they are asking themselves what happened and how can we fix it? Six years ago, it was then-Governor Mary Fallin and then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt who ordered the first pause in executions. But we haven't seen any indication of that from Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor. It seems too like this would strengthen the position of those inmates awaiting execution who have asked the court to be readmitted into a federal lawsuit that's challenging the state's execution protocols. That lawsuit is set to go to trial at the end of February, after the currently scheduled executions are completed.

Dick Pryor: Yeah. What does this latest execution mean for the execution of Julius Jones, which is scheduled for November 18th?

Shawn Ashley: On Thursday, the Supreme Court lifted Jones’ stay of execution that had been issued by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Unless something happens between now and the 18th, either the state pausing executions or some new stay at the federal level, his execution will proceed as scheduled. The Pardon and Parole Board will hold a clemency hearing Monday, and if the board recommends clemency, Governor Stitt will have just over two weeks to decide whether to follow that recommendation or to allow the execution to proceed.

Dick Pryor: We are two weeks away from the Legislature convening the special session on redistricting. We haven't seen an updated map of legislative districts and haven't seen a congressional map at all. When are those expected to be released to the public?

Shawn Ashley: Representative Ryan Martinez, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, and Senator Lonnie Paxton, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said in a meeting earlier this month that we would see those maps before the special session starts on November 15th, so we should be seeing them sometime soon. At that meeting, the committees heard presentations about some of the congressional maps that have been submitted to them by members of the public and what they saw were lots of different ways the districts can be redrawn, including the controversial Congressional District Five centered around Oklahoma City.

Dick Pryor: The Oklahoma State Board of Education has approved 254 new emergency teacher certifications, bringing the total to more than 3,400 since June 1st. What does that tell us?

Shawn Ashley: Well, Oklahoma, like the rest of the nation, has been facing a teacher shortage. Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, experts were talking about how the teacher corps was not being replenished. More teachers were retiring or leaving the profession than were entering the field. COVID-19 seems to have only worsened that situation, according to the Board of Education's discussion and what we've been hearing in the House and Senate interim studies from people like Katherine Bishop at the Oklahoma Education Association.

Dick Pryor: More than 350 bills will take effect Monday, but some will not or will take effect only in part, and those pertain to abortion and public protests.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. Two of the anti-abortion bills were put on hold by an Oklahoma County district judge a couple of weeks ago. Three others were enjoined October 25th from going into effect by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Now, that is most of the anti-abortion measures that were approved by lawmakers and signed by Governor Stitt during the 2021 regular session. And on Wednesday, a federal judge put two thirds of House Bill 1674 on hold. This is the bill that provides immunity for a driver if they kill or injure someone while fleeing a riot. Now, that portion of the bill will take effect, but two parts will not. One makes it a misdemeanor for people to unlawfully obstruct a public street or highway, setting punishment for that, and the other authorizes large fines for groups or organizations that conspire with someone who violates one of the state's laws related to riots and unlawful assemblies.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: We'd like to hear from you. Email your questions to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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