John Grant: Inmate yells, vomits, and convulses as Oklahoma resumes controversial executions after six years

The state hasn’t executed anyone since 2015, after a series of botched killings

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 29 October 2021 17:22 BST
Biden through the years: The death penalty
Leer en Español

Oklahoma has carried out its first execution in six years, resuming capital punishment after a series of botched executions in 2014 and 2015 prompted a moratorium. Critics say the state still hasn’t learned its lesson.

John Marion Grant, who was given a death sentence in 1999 for fatally stabbing cafeteria worker Gay Carter while in prison, was given a lethal injection on Thursday afternoon.

He reportedly yelled out a profanity and vomited before being declared dead at 4.21pm.

“He began convulsing about two-dozen times, full-body convulsions, and began to vomit, which covered his face and began to run down his neck and the side of his face,” said Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy, one of the witnesses to the execution.

Who was John Grant?

Unlike Julius Jones, an Oklahoma death row inmate who has inspired a rapidly growing exoneration movement around his case, John Grant never claimed to be innocent.

Instead, his attorneys argued that he had taken responsibility for his crimes, but that his life story is also one of profound state neglect.

“John Grant took full responsibility for the murder of Gay Carter, and he spent his years on death row trying to understand and atone for his actions, more than any other client I have worked with,” attorney Sarah Jernigan said in a statement.

Grant grew up in poverty in an Oklahoma City housing project. The child of a single mother, he often stole to provide for his eight siblings, and first entered the state penal system when he was just a teenager, where his attorneys say he endured frequent abuse.

He continued to struggle with his mental health and commit crimes after being released, before being sent to prison on an 130-year sentence for a series of armed robbery

“We must not forget Oklahoma’s hand in this tragic story,” Ms Jernigan added.His last meal was two bacon cheeseburgers, barbeque chips, a bottle of Mr Pibb soda, as well as a half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream and a pack of Nutter Butter cookies.

What does Gay Carter’s family say about the execution?

The family of Gay Carter, whom Grant stabbed 16 times in a mop closet with a homemade shank, has said they resent attempts to make out John Grant as the victim in this story.

“I understand he’s trying to save his life, but you keep victimizing my mother with these stupid allegations,” Pam Carter, her daughter, told the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which voted earlier this month to deny a clemency request from Grant. “My mother was vivacious. She was friendly. She didn’t meet a stranger. She treated her workers just as you would on a job on the outside. For someone to take advantage of that is just heinous.”

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt on Thursday praised the execution, saying it had delivered justice to the Gay family.

“When I took the oath of office as Governor, I swore to support, obey, and defend the laws and Constitution of the State of Oklahoma, including Section 9A of Article 2 which was added in 2016 by the people of Oklahoma,” he said in a statement. “Today, the Department of Corrections carried out the law of the State of Oklahoma and delivered justice to Gay Carter’s family.”

The governor’s office declined to answer questions from The Independent regarding whether the execution followed the state’s revised lethal injection protocol and minimised Grant’s suffering.

Why did Oklahoma stop executions?

The state’s execution chamber, one of the nation’s most prolific, has gone unused for years, until a Thursday decision from the US Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court and allowed Oklahoma to resume capital punishment. That’s despite an ongoing lawsuit from Grant and other inmates that claims the state’s lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. A trial in the suit is scheduled for February, and Oklahoma is scheduled to execute another plaintiff, Julius Jones, before it will take place.

Advocates condemned Grant’s apparent struggle before he died as further proof the state still is not executing people humanely.

“Oklahoma’s execution protocol did not work as it was designed to,” public defender Dale Baich, who is leading the constitutional lawsuit, said in a statement following Grant’s death on Thursday. “This is why the Tenth Circuit stayed John Grant’s execution and this is why the US Supreme Court should not have lifted the stay. There should be no more executions in Oklahoma until we go to trial in February to address the state’s problematic lethal injection protocol.”

The state Department of Corrections defended the execution, saying it went according to plan.“

Inmate Grant’s execution was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ protocols and without complication,” DOC spokesperson Justin Wolf told The Independent.

Prior to Thursday, Oklahoma hadn’t executed anyone after a series of botched executions in 2014 and 2015, where two men were killed using the incorrect lethal injection drugs, resulting in visible suffering. A third man, Richard Glossip, nearly met the same fate, before the execution was called off with hours to spare.

Following the high-profile errors, which earned condemnation from everyone from Barack Obama to the UN, a group of more than 30 death row inmates challenged Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols, arguing the state’s three-drug cocktail doesn’t do enough to sedate those about to die.

In 2020, Oklahoma announced it would resume executions using the same three-drug mixture for its lethal injection protocol, with added safeguards.

“The Department of Corrections has addressed concerns regarding carrying out the death penalty and is prepared to follow the will of the people of Oklahoma, as expressed in state statute, and the orders of the courts by carrying out the execution of inmates sentenced to death by a jury of their peers,” agency director Scott Crow said on Tuesday in a press release.

Critics have argued the state still isn’t doing enough to ensure the human treatment of those it executes. They have raised concerns that the state doesn’t publicly identify where it sources its drugs, and that it continues to use the drug midazolam, which the constitutional lethal injection suit argues doesn’t suitably sedate those being executed.

Who is scheduled to be executed next in Oklahoma?

Those safety concerns will weigh heavily on the minds of family members and supporters of Julius Jones, the next inmate scheduled to be executed. His lethal injection is planned for 18 November.

Jones, who has maintained his innocence for the last two decades, has exhausted all his legal appeals, but will appear before the Pardon and Parole board on 1 November to make a final case before state officials and governor Stitt for clemency.

It will mark the first time in 20 years he’s been able to speak out in-person in a legal forum regarding his case, after an incompetent public defence team failed to call a single witness during his original trial.

“He has never been able to use his voice to speak on his own behalf, to speak his own truth, and to be heard,” Dionne Carruthers, Julius’s cousin, told The Independent on Tuesday.

“He deserves that like every other human being to be heard, and to have their truth be told.”

The Independent and the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the 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.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in