Federal Court rejects Oklahoma death row appeal
Oklahoma City A federal appeals court has rejected a petition by four Oklahoma inmates to stay the executions scheduled for the next three months, including a lethal injection scheduled for next week that has drawn international attention.
The 10th US Court of Appeals on Friday rejected the request for intervention by prisoners Julius Jones, Wade Lay, Donald Grant and Gilbert Postel.
Jean Moreno, a lawyer for the four death row inmates, called the verdict “inexplicable”.
“We’re kind of on our way to figuring out what’s next. Our team is spending this weekend looking at the verdict,” Moreno told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The court ruled that the federal judge was not wrong in finding that the four were unlikely to succeed in their claims, including their argument that the use of the sedative midazolam during execution likely caused excruciating pain.
The court also rejected the claim that asking the four to choose an alternative method of execution would violate their religious beliefs by actually having them assist in their suicide.
“The appellants are not paying for their religious beliefs out of their lives; at most they are waiving the delay in implementing a ruling… it is a constitutional ruling,” the court ruling stated.
The four also argued that a change in state law in 2011 violated the constitutional prohibition of retroactive laws by changing from a lethal dose of a barbiturate with a paralytic drug, to a broad definition of a lethal amount of “a drug or drug.”
The court said the retroactive ban on laws prohibits increasing the penalty for a crime after it has been committed, and does not apply to inmate cases.
“Under both versions of the law, the penalty imposed is death,” the court wrote.
The inmates sued the injunction, saying the October 28 execution of John Marion Grant showed Oklahoma officials had not resolved concerns about the state’s execution method.
Grant convulsed and vomited because a lethal injection ended Oklahoma’s six-year death sentence due to these concerns.
Oklahoma was once one of the busiest execution rooms in the country, but the death penalty has been suspended since 2015 after three consecutive flawed executions, including one in which the wrong drug was used to carry out the death sentence.
The drug mix followed a failed execution in April 2014 as prisoner Clayton Lockett struggled on a stretcher before dying 43 minutes after his lethal injection — and after the state’s head of prisons ordered the executioners to stop.
Jones’ case has attracted widespread attention since it appeared in the ABC documentary series “The Last Defense.” Since then, reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and athletes with links to Oklahoma – NBA stars Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Tra Young – have urged Republican Governor Kevin Stitt to commute Jones’ death sentence and save his life.
Jones is scheduled to be executed next Thursday, but State is considering a recommendation from the Parole Board that he commute his sentence to life in prison.
Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting of Paul Howell during a carjacking in the Edmond City suburb of Oklahoma City.
Jones maintained his innocence and claimed that he was accused by the actual killer, a high school friend and former defendant who was one of the prosecution’s main witnesses.
Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater and former state attorney general Mike Hunter said the evidence against Jones was overwhelming.
Earlier Friday, the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of one of the four death row inmates, Lay, who is scheduled to be executed in January.
Lay requested a stay and an evidentiary hearing to provide additional evidence, but the state court said he did not challenge the validity of his conviction or death sentence “except to say…without supporting legal citations or records, Lay would not have allowed witnesses to be called or a defense presented.”
Lay, who filed the handwritten appeal himself, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2004 shooting of a security guard while attempting to rob a bank in Tulsa.
Grant was sentenced to the 2001 fatal shooting of a manager and office clerk at the Del City Hotel where he had applied for a job the day before.
Postel was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 retaliatory murder of four people in a mobile home park in Oklahoma City.
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