A hearing to decide the fate of death row inmate Bigler Stouffer ended Monday without a decision. A federal judge said he will rule on the motion for a preliminary injunction challenging the state's execution protocol Tuesday morning.
In a nearly seven-hour long hearing, the State called anesthesiologist and current candidate for governor, Evin Yen, as an expert witness.
Yen, a former state senator, has practiced medicine for nearly 40 years. He said an employee in the attorney general’s office approached him about being a paid expert witness to the October execution of John Grant.
Stouffer was convicted in the 1985 murder of Putnam City school teacher Linda Reaves. After a state objection in 2014, Stouffer was not allowed to join a lawsuit with more than 20 other death row inmates challenging the state’s execution protocol as cruel and unusual.
That case is set to go to trial in February 2022, while prisoners like Julius Jones who refused to comply with the court’s requirement that they select an alternative execution method were dismissed from the lawsuit and scheduled to be executed.
Stouffer argues he should be placed with those whose case is continuing to trial, not those who were kicked out of the lawsuit earlier this year.
Responding to claims the state’s execution protocol is cruel and unusual, Yen told the court he believes the execution of John Grant was “fast and smooth” despite media accounts the prisoner convulsed and vomited.
Yen said he observed Grant’s stomach rising while his chest fell. He referred to the motion as “rocking the boat” and said it was a sign his tongue had fallen to the back of his throat preventing him from breathing.
The doctor testified Grant was unconscious, didn’t suffer and likely died after the first of three drugs were administered.
Federal District Judge Stephen Friot asked Yen several times about accounts Grant vomited.
Yen said he witnessed the prisoner regurgitate an amber colored fluid which dripped down the right side of his face. He said it was more like acid reflux than vomiting because the expulsion of the fluid was not accompanied by force. While questioned by attorneys for Stouffer, Yen said he didn’t believe Grant choked on the fluid because it only came out of his mouth and never appeared to be sucked back in.
“Anesthetizing someone with a full stomach can be dangerous,” Yen said.
Despite saying his patients are required to abstain from eating and drinking eight hours before undergoing anesthesia, Yen said he believes death row inmates should be allowed to eat or drink anything they desire before being killed by lethal injection.
Friot paused the proceedings for attorneys to determine what food Grant had access to the day of his execution.
Both sides agreed he was served a breakfast of biscuits, gravy, eggs and oatmeal, although Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow said he only ate the eggs. Grant also had access to leftovers from his "last meal" he had eaten the night before.
Attorneys for Stouffer argued the state violated their own execution protocol by allowing the prisoner to eat the day of his execution. The State said the "last meal" is ceremonial in nature and said “there are also laws regarding not starving prisoners.”
Also settled Monday, if Stouffer’s execution does move forward, a religious advisor will be allowed to "lay hands" on the prisoner and pray while the lethal injection is administered. The State’s execution protocol currently allows two religious observers for the prisoner to view through a window.
Friot said he expects to rule on the motion for preliminary injunction that would remove Stouffer from the death row lineup Tuesday morning.