Oklahoma Executed John Marion Grant. He Vomited and Convulsed.

Oklahoma carried out its first execution in six years Thursday night. The inmate, John Marion Grant, vomited and convulsed.
This undated photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows John Marion Grant.
This undated photo provided by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections shows John Marion Grant. (Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)

Oklahoma carried out its first execution in six years Thursday night, and the man sentenced to die convulsed and vomited before he perished by lethal injection, according to witnesses. 

The execution of John Marion Grant, who murdered a prison cafeteria worker in 1998, ended Oklahoma’s unofficial moratorium on the death penalty after a series of botched—and widely condemned—killings. But the circumstances surrounding Grant’s death mirrored many of the concerns that advocates and attorneys had brought up ahead of the state reopening its death chamber. What happened was almost immediately described as “torture” and the result of a “human experiment.” 


“I’m not aware of a case like this, where there were such strong and prolonged full-body convulsions and vomiting,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center.

Grant vomited shortly after he received midazolam—a sedative and the first part of a three-drug cocktail—according to the Associated Press, which was present for his death. Members of his execution team wiped the vomit from his face and neck several minutes after he became sick. Grant was ultimately declared unconscious about 15 minutes after the midazolam was administered, and said to be dead six minutes after that, the AP reported. 

Sean Murphy, the AP reporter who witnessed Grant’s last moments, said he also convulsed approximately two dozen times after midazolam was administered. 

A retired AP reporter who has witnessed 450 executions told the news outlet that he’d only seen vomiting one other time. In a statement to VICE News, however, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said the execution was carried out within protocol and “without complication.” 

Oklahoma botched three executions before it stopped killing people for a period of several years, starting in 2015. During that delay, the state had good reason to reconsider using its death chamber: support for the death penalty had reached its lowest point in decades, while evidence mounted that people injected with midazolam regularly experienced a condition called pulmonary edema—meaning their lungs filled with fluid, potentially inducing the feeling of drowning.


“I think it’s unquestionable that midazolam is an inappropriate drug to use in carrying out executions,” Dunham said. “This execution should be a lesson that rushing to kill prisoners without providing meaningful judicial review of the dangers of the execution process is a horrible idea.”

Oklahoma’s execution protocol, which continues to use midazolam in combination with vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, will face a trial over its constitutionality in February. That made the urgency behind Grant’s killing all the more concerning to advocates. 

Both Grant and another death row prisoner, Julius Jones, had been granted stays of execution this week after a panel of judges with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, because they had a stake in the ongoing federal lawsuit that triggered the trial in the first place, their deaths would risk their ability to “present what may be a viable Eighth Amendment claim.”

Oklahoma appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, which vacated the stays Thursday. Grant was executed shortly thereafter. 

Jones, who has for years maintained his innocence in the 1999 slaying of a businessman, is scheduled to die Nov. 18, although the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his sentence instead be commuted to life in prison last month. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who shot down that recommendation, has said he’ll make a decision in Jones’ case only after the outcome of his clemency hearing, which is scheduled for Monday. 

“There should be no more executions in Oklahoma until we go to trial in February to address the state’s problematic lethal injection protocol,” Dale Baich, an attorney for death row inmates involved in the federal lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday. 

Even so, Pamela Gay Carter, the daughter of the woman Grant killed—Gay Carter—said in a statement Thursday that the purpose of the death penalty was to prevent such violent crimes from happening again.

“At least now we are starting to get justice for our loved ones,” Carter said, according to the Associated Press. “The death penalty is about protecting any potential future victims. Even after Grant was removed from society, he committed an act of violence that took an innocent life. I pray that justice prevails for all the other victims’ loved ones. My heart and prayers go out to you all.”