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Clemency hearing for Donald Grant approaches as parole board struggles with questions

Death row inmate Donald Grant
Death row inmate Donald Grant

Another clemency hearing will take place in front of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board Tuesday.

45-year-old Donald Grant admitted to murdering two women at a hotel in Del City in 2001. He didn’t stand trial until 2005 because, according to a slate of doctors and his attorney, he’s seriously mentally ill.

“It’s so without dispute the state stipulated his incompetence in late 2003 after their own expert Dr. John Call diagnosed Mr. Grant with schizophrenia and found he was incompetent to stand trial,” said federal public defender Emma Rolls.

When Grant eventually stood trial, Rolls said he deteriorated mentally to the point that even the prosecution said he spoke “gibberish” when he took the stand in his own defense.

In a 150-page packet submitted to the parole board by Rolls, there are a string of reports from doctors attesting to Grant’s mental illness. Dr. Barbara Hewitt, who interviewed Grant at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 2006, wrote that she initially thought he might be “faking crazy with religious-like talk” but over the duration of the approximately 90-minute interview it “became very obvious his pockets of contact with reality were greatly infiltrated by psychotic thought.”

Rolls said Grant’s struggles started before he was even born. Grant’s mother, Mary Robinson, drank when he was in utero. In 1989, Grant was removed from his mother’s care by the state of New York for neglect. By that time, Robinson was addicted to crack cocaine. But Grant was reunited with Robinson after he and his brother fled foster care for North Carolina where his mother moved.

Grant’s long involvement in the criminal justice system started in North Carolina where he was arrested at 14 for stealing a car. In a report written by a court counselor, Grant is characterized as a “very disturbed, troubled young man.”

An excerpt from a report from Donald Grant's court counselor in North Carolina
Emma Rolls
Donald Grant's clemency packet
An excerpt from a report from Donald Grant's court counselor in North Carolina

Grant has two brothers who are also convicted murderers. In 2010, Lenox Grantwas arrested for the shooting deaths of a 7-year-old boy and his father. Joseph Grant was convicted of second-degree murder after a fight in a bar.

“I think all of this activity shows that none of these children came out of their childhoods unscathed. All of them suffered from tremendous abuse and genetic loading for serious mental illness,” said Rolls.

Lenox Grant was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Joseph Grant served 25 years in prison and has been released.

Joseph Grant is expected to testify at Donald Grant’s clemency hearing, as is Donald Grant himself.

The hearing is coming at a complicated time for the parole board. At its last clemency hearing, the majority of the board voted to recommend clemency for death row inmate Bigler Stouffer.

Stouffer spoke on his own behalf at the hearing and insisted he was innocent of the 1985 murder of schoolteacher Linda Reaves. The board unanimously rejected that claim, but voted for clemency anyway due to concerns over Oklahoma’s lethal injection drugs.

The drugs, which the Department of Corrections has refused to provide records on, were used in the “botched” killing of John Marion Grant in October. Grant vomited and convulsed on the gurney at Oklahoma State Penitentiary before he died.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.