The appeals court stayed the execution of John Grant, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of prison worker Gay Carter. File Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Oct. 27 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday issued temporary stays for Oklahoma's next two scheduled executions, including one set for this week.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Thursday's scheduled execution of John Grant and that of Julius Jones set for Nov. 18. The two death row prisoners sought the stays after suing Oklahoma over its lethal injection protocol.
Dale Baich, an attorney for the two men and dozens of other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, welcomed the court's ruling. He said former Attorney General Mike Hunter promised not to carry out executions on plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit while the case was pending in district court.
"The 10th Circuit did the right thing by blocking Mr. Grant's execution on Thursday. Today's order should prevent the state from carrying out executions until the federal district court addresses the 'credible expert criticism' it identified in Oklahoma's execution procedures. Those issues will be carefully reviewed by the court at the trial scheduled in February."
Three other men are scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma before the start of that trial -- Donald Grant on Jan. 27, Wade Lay on Jan. 6 and Gilbert Postelle on Feb. 17.
The Oklahoma attorney general's office said they plan to appeal the 10th Circuit's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We have received the order of the 10th circuit granting a stay of the executions of John M. Grant and Julius D. Jones," the office said in a statement to KWTV-TV in Oklahoma City. "We are appealing the decision to the United States Supreme Court. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will vacate the stay so that justice can finally be served for the people of Oklahoma, including the families of the victims of these horrific crimes."
Grant was 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. Jones received the death penalty for the 1999 slaying of businessman Paul Howell.
The state announced Feb. 13, 2020, that it planned to resume executions nearly six 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 carry out executions, the state has now found a "reliable supply of drugs" to resume lethal injections.
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 Fallin called off Glossip's execution with a last-minute, indefinite stay after she learned of the discrepancy.
Oklahoma has carried out only one other execution since Lockett's, that of Charles Warner in January 2015. He previously 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.