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Oklahoma death row prisoner seeks clemency month before scheduled execution

Oklahoma death row prisoner seeks clemency month before scheduled execution
John Grant was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of prison worker Gay Carter. File Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Lawyers for an Oklahoma death row prisoner have submitted a petition for clemency less than a month ahead of his scheduled execution.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Sept. 20 scheduled John Grant's execution to take place Oct. 28 -- the first in the state since 2015. The state also scheduled five other executions to take place through March.

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Grant, 60, is scheduled to have a hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Tuesday.

In his clemency petition, Grant's lawyers pointed to the history of abuse and neglect he suffered in state-run institutions since he was a child. He was sent to juvenile detention at the age of 12 for stealing food and clothing for his eight siblings.

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The petition said the institutions operated by the state Department of Human have been the subject of "a widespread, nationally publicized scandal," that came to be known as "Oklahoma shame."

"John Grant never had a chance in life due to the severe abuse he suffered first at the hands of his mother and later in state-run institutions in Oklahoma whose horrific mistreatments are a well-documented scandal," Grant's attorney, Sarah Jernigan, said. "Yet he is deeply remorseful for his actions and has worked to redeem himself while incarcerated. We are hopeful that Oklahoma will give him a second chance by showing mercy, allowing him to live the remainder of his life in prison instead of being executed."

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The petition also said Grant had incompetent trial counsel, accusing his attorneys of failing to investigate elements of the crime and Grant's history. One of the lawyers has since been suspended for unprofessional conduct.

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Grant was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of prison worker Gay Carter, whom Grant killed while he was serving a prison sentence for four armed robberies.

The state announced Feb. 13, 2020, that it planned to resume executions years after the use of an incorrect drug led to the botched execution of a convicted murderer.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said that after mulling the option of using nitrogen gas to cary out executions, the state has now found a "reliable supply of drugs" to resume lethal injections.

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Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol came under scrutiny in 2014 when Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack amid complications during his execution.

Autopsy reports released a year later indicated Oklahoma corrections officials used the wrong drug -- potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride -- during the process. Lockett complained of a burning sensation and attempted to raise his head and speak after doctors declared he was unconscious.

The same incorrect drug was delivered to corrections officials for use in the planned 2015 execution of Richard Glossip. Former Gov. Mary Ballin called off Glossip's execution with a last-minute, indefinite stay after she learned of the discrepancy.

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Oklahoma has carried out only one other execution since Lockett's, that of Charles Warner in January 2015. He received a nine-month stay due to the previous botched lethal injection.

Since then, the state had an unofficial moratorium on executions as it attempted to secure a supply of lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma uses a three-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Executions in the United States have undergone changes in recent years after states started running out of the essential lethal injection drug pentobarbital. The European Union in 2011 voted to prohibit the sale of the drug and seven other barbiturates to the United States for use in torture or executions. Other pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs for lethal injection purposes outright, and some will only sell if their name is kept confidential.

Now states are being forced to use new drug cocktails, scramble to restock their stores of drugs and review their lethal injection policies.

In 2018, Oklahoma's attorney general's office announced it would use nitrogen gas inhalation as its primary method of execution. Officials, though, had difficulty finding a manufacturer to sell a method for administering the gas for an execution. Additionally, state law says nitrogen hypoxia may be used for executions only if drugs for lethal injections are unavailable.

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In August, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit by a group of prisoners on death row challenging the state's lethal injection protocol can proceed to trial. Several of the 26 death row prisoners who were part of the lawsuit were dropped from the cause because they didn't choose an alternate form of execution, including Coddington, Jones and John Grant.

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