Judge says Oklahoma can proceed with 5 lethal injections

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled Monday the state can move forward with scheduled lethal injections for five death row inmates, including Julius Jones, whose case has drawn international attention and who is scheduled to die on Nov. 28.

Judge Stephen Friot denied a motion for a preliminary injunction sought by the five inmates, paving the way for the state to proceed with seven lethal injections scheduled over the next six months. The state is scheduled to conduct its first execution in more than six years on Thursday when John Marion Grant, 60, is set to receive a lethal injection for the 1998 killing of a prison cafeteria worker.

Grant, Jones and three other death row inmates were removed from a federal lawsuit challenging the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol because none of the five offered an alternative method of execution. A trial on that challenge is scheduled before Friot in February.

“The case is complete in this court as to these five plaintiffs," Friot said.

Twenty-six of the 32 Oklahoma death row inmates who were on the original challenge provided the court with an alternative method of execution, including the use of different drug combinations or firing squad. According to a table included in the judge’s order, 19 of the 32 inmates proposed firing squad as an alternative method of execution. Firing squad is currently one of several execution methods authorized under Oklahoma law.

Attorneys for the five inmates vowed to immediately appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

“We will be asking the 10th Circuit to review Judge Friot’s decision and to issue a stay for Mr. Grant’s execution, as well as for the executions scheduled in the coming months," said assistant public defender Dale Baich, one of Jones' attorneys.

“The district court acknowledged there are serious questions about the drug protocol used by Oklahoma and that it could cause unconstitutional pain and suffering. With the trial on that question scheduled for February 2022, executions should not go forward."

A spokeswoman for Attorney General John O'Connor declined to comment on Friot's ruling.

Jones still could be granted clemency by Gov. Kevin Stitt if a majority of the state's five-member Pardon and Parole Board recommends it. The panel, which already recommended Jones' sentence be commuted to life in prison, is scheduled to consider his clemency request on Tuesday.

Jones' case drew national attention after being featured in 2018 on the ABC television documentary series “The Last Defense.” Since then, his case has been highlighted by reality television star Kim Kardashian West and numerous professional athletes with ties to Oklahoma who have appealed for clemency.

Oklahoma announced last year it planned to resume executions using a three-drug lethal injection protocol and that a source for the drugs has been secured. The three drugs are: midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Oklahoma once had one of the nation’s busiest death chambers, but a moratorium on capital punishment has been in place since 2015 following three consecutive flawed executions. The lead plaintiff in the case, Richard Glossip, was just hours away from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug. It was later learned the same wrong drug had been used to execute an inmate in January 2015.

The drug mix-ups followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which inmate Clayton Lockett struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection — and after the state’s prisons chief ordered executioners to stop.