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Local & Regional

As attorney general pushes for executions, fate of condemned rests with federal judge

Federal judge Stephen P. Friot.

Attorney General John O’Connor is declining to honor the state’s promise to not execute prisoners involved in a lethal injection lawsuit. 


A number of death row inmates are involved in the suit challenging the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection practices. The suit was filed in 2014 after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett.


In 2020, former Attorney General Mike Hunter told the federal judge overseeing the case, Stephen P. Friot, that the state wouldn’t seek the deaths of the prisoners involved in the suit. According to court transcripts, Friot said, "I had the representation of none other than the attorney general that would not happen."


Current Attorney General John O’Connor says he’s going ahead with scheduled executions anyway. According to court filings, on Oct. 19 O’Connor’s office told attorneys for the plaintiffs that “the state does not intend to withdraw execution dates.” 


Federal public defender Dale Baich says he hopes Friot will hold the state to its word.


“We are asking the federal judge to enforce the agreement that the attorney general made last year. The attorney general promised that no execution dates will be set until the case before the federal court is complete. And as the Tenth Circuit determined last week, the case is not complete,” said Baich.


The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week a number of prisoners removed from the lethal injection lawsuit by Friot for failing to tell the court how they would prefer to die could rejoin the lawsuit, including death row inmate John Marion Grant. 


Grant is the first person scheduled to be executed on Oct. 28 despite his status as a plaintiff in a suit contesting the plan for his death.


The federal district court will hold a hearing for an injunction to stop the execution of Grant and others on Oct. 25. 


“We are hoping the district court will ensure that no executions proceed until the court has had the opportunity to determine whether the Oklahoma lethal injection protocol violates the Constitution,” said Baich.


The trial for Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol is set for Feb. 2022.