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Today, an Oklahoma District Court held a hearing on the preliminary injunction to halt upcoming executions scheduled from October 2021-February 2022 for four people on the state’s death row.

In response to this news, Paul O’Brien, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said:

“There is no humane way to kill a person – as Oklahoma has made abundantly clear. All executions must halt immediately as a first step towards full abolition. The Oklahoma Attorney General is pushing for the state to kill again, before a federal court decides the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection protocol. Oklahoma still has time to do the right thing and reverse course by rescinding the execution dates.”

Kristina Roth, Senior Advocate, Criminal Justice Program at Amnesty International USA, added:

“It is alarming to see Oklahoma continue to pursue executions in the midst of unsettled and serious legal questions about their constitutionality. These executions must be halted to allow the courts to rule on the claims raised in the lethal injection lawsuit as well as religious objectors claims raised today. Regardless of what the court may find in this case, no method of execution is compatible with human rights, and the only solution is to end the death penalty altogether.”

Background

Earlier this year, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor requested for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set seven execution dates from October 2021 – March 2022, starting with that of John Grant, which the Court scheduled for October 28. Amnesty International holds that the death penalty violates human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to live free from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and calls for its abolition unconditionally. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 marked a historically low year for executions in recent US history. In the six years Oklahoma has gone without an execution, five states have abolished the death penalty, bringing the total number of abolitionist states to 23. However, Oklahoma’s actions stand in stark contrast to the USA’s movement towards abolition. John Grant, the sixth of nine siblings, grew up in poverty, and experienced violence, neglect and abuse throughout his childhood. He was sent to a juvenile institution at age 12 for stealing clothes for his younger siblings. The state juvenile system where he was held was later exposed to be an environment of pervasive, systemic neglect and abuse of children. Due to the ineffective assistance of counsel by his attorneys, the jury in John Grant’s trial never heard the full extent of the abuse he experienced as a child nor about the long-term, personal relationship between him and his victim. Two jurors have provided affidavits stating that they might have considered life instead of a death sentence if this evidence was provided during the sentencing.

The next scheduled execution is that of Julius Jones on November 18, who is in the midst of a clemency hearing and is fighting his execution based on innocence claims. These executions were prematurely scheduled and come months before a federal court will hold a trial on the state’s lethal injection protocol set for 2022.

While no manner of execution is safe or humane, Oklahoma has a history of so-called botched executions. In 2014, Clayton Locket died of a heart attack nearly 50 minutes after his execution began. In 2015, corrections officials used the wrong drug to execute Charles Warner, whose final words were “My body is on fire.” Both were Black men. The execution of Richard Glossip, a white man, in 2015 was halted at the last minute when the executioners discovered they were about to again use the wrong drug and the governor called off the execution. These actions prompted an ongoing lawsuit challenging the state’s execution protocol to determine whether it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution – and calls for abolition once and for all.