The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set new execution dates Monday for seven death row prisoners, including Julius Jones, who was recommended for commutation last week.
The court set John Grant's execution for Oct. 28, Jones' for Nov. 18, Bigler Stoufer's for Dec. 9, Wade Lay for Jan. 6, Donald Grant's for Jan. 27, Gilbert Postelle's for Feb. 17 and James Coddington's for March 10.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor had asked for John Grant to be executed Aug. 25, but earlier this month he asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to push that back to Oct. 28 or Nov. 18 in order to comply with a notice requirement.
The seven men were among more than 30 prisoners who filed a challenge to the state's execution method in court, but their claims were dismissed because they had not selected an alternative way to die. The remaining plaintiffs' challenge will proceed to trial in federal court.
"We are concerned that the court set these dates when it knows that unresolved questions about Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol remain pending in the federal district court," Dale Baich, an attorney for the prisoners, said in a statement. "To allow executions to proceed when there is a chance the federal court could find a constitutionally unacceptable risk that a person could suffer because of the drug combination used, is deeply troubling."
The inmates' attorneys also pointed out several of them have unresolved claims of innocence, racial bias at trial or mental illness.
John Grant would become the first person executed by Oklahoma since Charles Warner in 2015, when the state used a drug not listed in its lethal injection protocol to kill him.
Warner had been scheduled to die on the same night in April 2014 as Clayton Lockett, but Warner's death was postponed after executioners struggled to place an IV in Lockett's body to deliver the drugs. The drugs were injected into Lockett's tissue rather than his bloodstream, leaving him conscious, writhing on the gurney and speaking for several minutes.
John Grant's attorney responded to his new execution date in a statement, saying he had an unfair trial with ineffective counsel at trial and jurors who were not told the full story about the abuse he endured as a child in state care.
"Had the jury learned of the horrific victimization he experienced in state-run institutions when he was just a child, there is at least a reasonable probability he would not have been sentenced to death. Rather than killing him now, the State should extend him the mercy he was denied as a vulnerable child in its custody," said Assistant Federal Public Defender Sarah Jernigan.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board last week recommended Jones' death sentence be reduced to life with the possibility of parole. It was the board's first commutation hearing for a death row inmate. It falls to Gov. Kevin Stitt to accept or reject the board's recommendation, and there is no set deadline for him to act.
Jones was convicted of the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell but maintained his innocence. Jones' legal team has argued his defense was poor and the trial was tainted by racism, and celebrity advocates have taken notice of his case.
At trial, the state relied on Jones’ co-defendant, Christopher Jordan, to secure his conviction. Jordan fit the only eyewitness’s description of the shooter, while Jones did not. Prosecutors told jurors Jordan would serve at least 30 years in prison for his involvement in the crime. He was released from prison after serving only 15 years and another inmate says Jordan confessed to murdering Howell while they were in prison together.