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Parole board members walk back criticisms of lethal injection, vote to deny Donald Grant clemency

Donald Grant
Donald Grant addresses the parole board

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board Tuesday voted to deny clemency to death row inmate Donald Grant.

After a long and emotional hearing where many people on both sides spoke, Grant, whose been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, addressed the board on his own behalf. In a rambling and at times incoherent speech, he apologized for the 2001 murders of Suzette Smith and Brenda McElyea at a Del City hotel.

Grant also expressed confusion over how he ended up with an execution date when a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection drugs will be going to trial the month after his scheduled execution.

“My attorneys tell me I need to pick a method of execution, and they said one of the methods you can pick is…because of the religious and moral ethicals…I picked that box and somehow or another that got me kicked out of the lawsuit and everything.”

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Grant was removed from the federal lawsuit in August by Judge Stephen Friot because he didn’t specify an alternative method of death due to religious, moral, or ethical reasons.

Grant was subsequently reinstated to the lawsuit by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that said Friot acted inappropriately, but the state has pushed ahead with executions anyway.

At the parole board’s last clemency meeting in November, former probation officer Larry Morris was concerned enough about Oklahoma’s execution plans to suggest clemency for Bigler Stouffer, a man who he thinks is guilty. Morris said that concern was cleared up after he met Friot.

“A hearing has been held before Judge Friot, who I’ve had occasion to meet, and I certainly trust his judgement. To be clear I’ve read his opinion several times. I just want to go on the record and say that is no longer a concern of mine.”

At the hearing before Friot, anesthesiologist and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ervin Yen testified that Oklahoma’s October execution of John Grant, who vomited and convulsed before dying, was “smooth.” Yen was paid $1,500 a day by the state for his work.

Social worker Kelly Doyle also walked back statements she had made at Stouffer’s hearing. Doyle said she wanted Gov. Kevin Stitt’s opinion on death penalty cases since the questionable execution of Grant, and voting for clemency is one way to make sure he gives an opinion. A clemency case can’t go before the governor without a recommendation from the parole board.

Doyle said on Tuesday she didn’t think that was necessary anymore. She read her remarks from a prepared statement.

“The state continues to be confident in their execution protocol and should that change the governor has the ability to issue a stay. For me, the horror of this particular crime experienced by Brenda and Suzette goes beyond the pale, and for that reason I am no.”

Adam Luck was the only member of the parole board to vote in favor of clemency.

Donald Grant is scheduled for execution Jan. 27.

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.