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Oklahoma executes Gilbert Postelle days before trial challenging injection drugs

Federal trial over Oklahoma’s execution methods begins later this month

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 17 February 2022 18:39 GMT
Why the death penalty isn't working for America

Oklahoma executed Gilbert Ray Postelle, 35, on Thursday morning, for his role in a 2005 quadruple murder at an Oklahoma City trailer park.

The execution is the state’s fourth since October, and comes just over a week before a federal trial is set to start in a lawsuit accusing Oklahoma of using unconstitutionally cruel lethal injection drugs during executions.

Gilbert Ray Postelle

Oklahoma previously had a six-year moratorium on executions after a series of botched killings, before resuming the practice last year.

Postelle admitted his role in the 2005 killings of James Alderson, Terry Smith, Donnie Swindle, and Amy Wright.

When he was 18, Postelle, at the direction of his father Brad, helped attack the group, believing without evidence that Swindle injured Brad in a motorcycle crash that left him with brain damage.

“I do understand that I’m guilty and I accept that,” he said at a clemency hearing in December, where his request for reprieve was denied. “There’s nothing more that I know to say to you all than I am truly sorry for what I’ve done to all these families.”

Postelle became hooked on meth as a teenager, after being surrounded by meth users as a child, including his father, who manufactured the drug. The then-18-year-old has said he was high for nearly a week and could only remember scattered moments of the killings.

Postelle shot Wright and Alderson in the back with a rifle as they fled, and Swindle’s mother said she was unable to see her son’s body because it had been so badly damaged by bullets.

“Today did not put closure on anything,” Shelli Milner, the sister of Donnie Swindle, told the Associated Press. “His family grieves as our families have grieved for 17 years. To know that he will never walk this earth again does give me a little more peace than I had yesterday.”

Justice advocates condemned the execution, and argued the state shouldn’t have killed Postelle, who was abandoned by his mother as a child and had severe learning disabilities and cognitive challenges.

“Only the morally ill execute the mentally ill, which is becoming commonplace in Oklahoma,” Reverend Don Heath, chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said in a statement. “It diminishes the humanity in all of us.”

The execution is the latest controversy on the state’s death row, which has executed the most people per capita in modern US history.

Starting in 2014, the state botched three executions in short order, prompting a wholesale re-evaluation of the death penalty. At least temporarily.

In April 2014, it took executioners 17 attempts to set an IV line on Clayton Lockett, who began moaning, groaning, and attempting to speak after he was supposed to be unconscious. Witnesses were ushered out and a curtain was pulled over the death chamber, where Lockett died of a heart attack. A 2015 autopsy revealed he had accidentally been given the wrong execution drug.

That same year, Charles Warner told onlookers “my body is on fire” during his execution in January, which mistakenly used the same wrong drug, potassium acetate, that had killed Lockett.

By September, Oklahoma was about to bungle a third killing, that of Richard Glossip, before then-governor Mary Fallin called off the execution at the least minute after she learned he too was about to be injected with the incorrect poison. Glossip came within two hours of death.

The state resumed executions last fall with the killing of John Marion Grant, who grew up in dire poverty and struggled with his mental health.

The 60-year-old writhed and vomited for minutes before dying, which critics say amounts to “torture.” The state of Oklahoma has said that Grant died without complication and all safety protocols were followed correctly in his execution.

Autopsy results released this month suggest Grant inhaled his own vomit and Oklahoma’s lethal injection drugs caused him to suffer a sudden pulmonary edema during his execution, a feeling experts have likened to waterboarding.

Numerous Oklahoma death row inmates have avoided the execution chamber because they are part of the lethal injection lawsuit, but the executions of Grant, Postelle, and others were allowed to go forward because the men did not affirmatively select an alternative execution method on prison paperwork.

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to their Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty - with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives like Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.

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