Oklahoma Plans to Continue Executions Despite Flaws in Lethal Injection Protocol


Oklahoma officials said the state does not plan to make any changes to its lethal injection protocols even after witnesses reported that the first drug injected into John Grant during his execution last Thursday caused him to convulse and vomit.

Media witnesses reported on Thursday night that Mr. Grant vomited and appeared to convulse about two dozen times after he was injected with what doctors have described as an “insane” dose of the sedative midazolam. He was declared unconscious about 15 minutes later, AP News reported.

Vomiting during a lethal injection is extremely rare, observers told AP, raising troubling questions about whether Oklahoma botched yet another execution.

Also troubling was the state’s failure to even mention the convulsing and vomiting in its first official summary, which said the execution was carried out “without complication.” 

In response to the witness accounts, the state’s prisons director later said “regurgitation” is common during sedation, AP reported. But doctors dispute that claim.

When it is properly administered, midazolam does not usually cause vomiting by itself, Dr. Karen Sibert, an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told AP. 

She said that a lack of oxygen, compounded by high levels of anxiety and distress, could have caused Mr. Grant’s convulsions.

Doctors are also questioning the extremely high dosage of midazolam the state’s protocol requires as Mr. Grant’s execution adds to mounting evidence that the use of midazolam creates an intolerable risk of a cruel and inhumane execution.

Mr. Grant was the first person executed in Oklahoma after the botched executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner in 2014 and 2015. Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack after writhing and groaning on the gurney. Mr. Warner’s last words before he was injected with a paralytic that prevented him from speaking or moving were, “My body is on fire.” An autopsy report revealed the state had injected him with the wrong drug.

After a grand jury determined the state had committed grave errors in the way it administered lethal injections, state officials put all executions on hold in 2015.

Oklahoma has six more lethal injection executions scheduled between now and March 2022.

Board Recommends Clemency for Julius Jones

The next person scheduled to be executed is Julius Jones, on November 18. 

But the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 on Monday to recommend that the governor grant clemency to Mr. Jones, who has maintained that he is innocent.

The board voted earlier this year to recommend that Gov. Kevin Stitt commute Mr. Jones’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole. 

The governor did not act on that recommendation, saying it should be addressed in a clemency hearing, which was held on Monday and lasted more than three hours.