As time ticks down for the state's first execution in more than 2,400 days, the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has stepped in and issued a stay for two prisoners.
The order could still reversed before Thursday’s anticipated 4 p.m. execution as Oklahoma attorney general John O’Connor takes his case to resume executions to the United States Supreme Court.
The last-minute stays for John Grant and Julius Jones revolve around the state's execution protocol.
More than 30 death row prisoners are currently challenging it in federal court. However, Grant, Jones and three others refused to select an alternative execution method, something the district judge said they're required to do.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that wasn't necessary.
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely have the final say. Whether executions resume Thursday or months from now, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said it stands ready to resume killing some of Oklahoma’s worst criminals.
“The state of Oklahoma is prepared to move forward with the death penalty and doing it in an efficient, humane manner,” Oklahoma Department of Corrections director Scott Crow said last week.
Grant is serving time for the 1998 armed robbery in Hominy when he stabbed a prison food service worker 16 times. He was set to be executed Thursday.
“For his last meal, he requested two bacon cheeseburgers with onion, tomato, pickles, lettuce and mustard, a half-gallon of ice cream, a large bag of barbecue chips, a large bag of Nutter Butter sandwich cookies and a 2L (liter) bottle of Mr. Pibb,” Crow said. “That is Mr. Grant’s last wish.”
Julius Jones, convicted in the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, was also in a segregated cell preparing for his final day on Earth, deciding who he wanted to talk with, who he wanted in the viewing room and what he wanted for his last meal.
But now, pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision, that's all on hold as a lawsuit against the state's execution protocol moves forward.
“There have been problems historically with the three-drug protocol in Oklahoma,” federal public defender Dale Baich said.
Asked if he understands why many Oklahomans doubt the Department of Corrections’ ability to carry out executions, Crow said, “I understand why there's concerns in the manner in which executions were carried out before, and quite honestly, I don't like the fact that Oklahoma has been in the headlines as not being able to carry out executions or having been associated with a word ‘botched.’ I do understand that.”
The director said the state's new execution protocol doesn't allow for any substitutions to the lethal drug cocktail, something he said was the root of problems in 2015. Crow blames the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett on issues with the IV placement.
“This is not about carrying out executions or carrying out this responsibility haphazardly,” Crow said. “We will not carry out an execution in the state of Oklahoma haphazardly.”
Crow said he could not comment on whether the state has carried out executions haphazardly in the past as he was not directly involved in the process.
“I will assure you the Department of Corrections has gone to great measures to make sure that the drugs, which are the three that have been approved are used,” O’Connor said.
Federal public defenders have waged a long running legal battle against the state's execution protocol, arguing the first of three drugs is unreliable and ineffective in sedating prisoners during the execution process.
“Midazolam was used in the Clayton Lockett execution and, if you remember, it took almost 40 minutes for Mr. Lockett to die,” Baich said. “He bucked up the straps. He was talking. He was writhing on the gurney, so this is a problematic drug.”
As O'Connor fights the legal battle against the state's execution protocol, he said he's equally confident in the guilt of those to be executed.
“The national attention is really not relevant to me at all,” O’Connor said. “What's relevant is what laws that the people of Oklahoma approved for the punishment of certain crimes.”
“I have placed a lot of emphasis, a lot of resources toward making sure that the state of Oklahoma has this right. That the team with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections carries this out in accordance with the state law, and I’m very, very confident that were going to be able to accomplish that,” Crow said.
The death row inmate’s federal trial against the execution protocol is set to begin in Feb. 2022.
Watch the full interview with Oklahoma Department of Corrections director Scott Crow below.