Oklahoma can carry out executions of John Grant, Julius Jones, high court rules
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a stay of execution for two condemned prisoners in Oklahoma, allowing the state to move forward with its first executions in six years even as public support for the death penalty diminishes.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a stay of execution for two condemned prisoners in Oklahoma, allowing the state to move forward with its first executions in six years even as public support for the death penalty diminishes. With the last-minute intervention from the high court, the state will put to death John Grant at 4 pm local time (2100 GMT) on Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, his lawyer, Dale Baich, said.
“Executions will go forward in Oklahoma despite significant questions regarding the constitutionality of the state’s execution protocol," Baich said. "The district court ordered a trial to determine whether the protocol creates an unconstitutional risk of excessive pain and suffering, yet the Supreme Court will allow Oklahoma to execute Mr. Grant with that protocol.” The ruling overturns a stay of execution for Grant and Julius Jones, who is scheduled to be put to death on Nov. 28.
Grant, 60, was sentenced to death for killing a prison employee, and Jones, 41, for murdering an insurance executive gunned down in his driveway. Jones has maintained his innocence for two decades in a case that has attracted attention from celebrities and anti-death penalty activists.
In ordering the state to delay the executions on Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court had unfairly denied the two men delays granted to numerous other defendants pursuing a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol. But the Supreme Court on Thursday vacated that stay without commenting further on the case. The case was accepted for the court by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the order said. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate.
In a novel approach, lawyers for Grant and five other condemned prisoners had argued that the state violated their right to religious liberty by asking them to name an acceptable method of execution, which the prisoners said forced them to participate in their own deaths. They also argued that Oklahoma's newest lethal injection protocol is too similar to a prior method that led to three botched executions.
The planned executions run counter to trends in most U.S. states, where the use of capital punishment is declining. Thirty-six U.S. states and the District of Columbia have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in the past 10 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions.
Oklahoma's planned executions "are occurring against the backdrop of ongoing litigation over whether they’re even constitutional, and historically low rates of new death sentences nationwide," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Conservative states including Texas and Missouri, however, have bucked that trend, as did the conservative administration of Republican former U.S. President Donald Trump, which resumed federal executions in 2020 after a 17 year hiatus, putting 13 prisoners to death beginning with Daniel Lewis Lee on July 14.
The local archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes the death penalty, is asking followers to pray for the condemned men and for an end to capital punishment during the time set for the execution. "Certainly some of the crimes committed were unspeakable gruesome and indefensible," said Paul Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. "But I would say (the condemned person) is still a human being, it’s still a human person created in the likeness of God and therefore endowed with a dignity that cannot be taken away."
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