By Amy Fullerton and Casey Rawlings
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – As of late October 2021, six men incarcerated in Oklahoma on death row are in the process of filing injunctions to halt their upcoming executions in protest of being required to choose their own execution method.
The hearing, however, isn’t scheduled until after all of their execution dates.
The men on Oklahoma’s death row claim that it is against their religious beliefs to have to choose their own death sentence and hope the federal district court will halt their executions.
One of the people incarcerated, John Grant, is scheduled to be the first execution in Oklahoma in six years – he is scheduled to be killed on Oct. 28, 2021 if the injunction is not granted.
The plaintiffs argue that it would be against their religious beliefs if they were to participate in an execution. They believe that choosing their execution method “demonstrates a hostility towards religion generally,” forcing them to “either violate their sincerely held religious beliefs or face imminent execution.”
Oklahoma has had a rocky past with how the state has proceeded with capital punishment. A common three-drug combination has been used to execute people, which has included the sedative midazolam, a paralytic, and potassium chloride.
In recent years, however, Oklahoma has swapped potassium chloride with potassium acetate, leading to faulty executions that has left people on death row writhing in pain in their last moments on earth.
Additionally, faulty procedural techniques, such as injecting the drugs into tissue instead of the bloodstream, and the use of paralytics has been a widely controversial aspect of death row executions.
Injection into tissue instead of into the bloodstream prolongs the time it takes for people to die and the use of paralytics is primarily used to mask the pain and suffering they feel during the execution process.
Botched executions, including the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014 and Charles Warner in 2015 due to the misuse of the three-drug combination, add to evidence that incarcerated men on Oklahoma death row are hoping to use in their argument for a halt to their executions.
Many advocates for men like Grant argue against the death penalty as a whole, citing many different reasons, the primary of which being that it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Another reason provided by advocates against capital punishment is a primary concern of death penalty advocates; money. Supporters of capital punishment frequently stipulate that it is more economically feasible than other options; however, advocates against it say this isn’t true.
According to a recent study conducted by Amnesty International, median death penalty cases cost $1.26 million tax dollars each year, whereas non-death penalty cases through the end of incarceration average around $740,000 per case.
Activists supporting Grant cite the argument that the death penalty does not effectively deter crime, and law enforcement recently reported that more efficient deterrence includes; increasing police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy with more jobs.
Lastly, advocates refer to the number of known innocent people sentenced to death; last year, at least one person was exonerated for every 10 that were executed. For example, there is one currently known innocent man incarcerated on death row in Oklahoma – Julius Jones.
Despite maintaining his innocence for 19 years, his case containing clear evidence of contamination and racism, and compelling evidence that he was wrongfully convicted, Jones is set to be executed by Governor Kevin Stitt and the State of Oklahoma on the 18th of November.
Attorney General John O’Connor, ruled unqualified by the American Bar Association, refused to call off executions that are scheduled before the date of the trial case, leaving men like Grant and Jones abandoned.
The district court will be holding a hearing on the preliminary injunction motion Monday, Oct. 25, while Grant is scheduled to be executed three days later.
The hearing for the case isn’t set until February of 2022, regarding the constitutional rights of Grant, Jones, Bigler Stouffer, Wade Lay, Donald Grant, and Gilbert Postelle – all but two are men of color, and of them scheduled to be executed before the hearing.