MCALESTER, Okla. — A tear rolled down the face of an admitted double-murderer as he mouthed something to witnesses on the other side of the death chamber glass.
Donald Grant, 46, gave a disjointed final statement before being cutoff as Oklahoma prison officials carried out America’s first execution in 2022 on Thursday at the state’s maximum prison in McAlester. Oklahoma prisons director Scott Crow said Grant was declared dead at 10:16 a.m. Thursday.
Grant received the death sentence for admittedly killing two Del City hotel workers in a 2001 robbery. Prosecutors said hotel manager Brenda McElyea and desk clerk Suzette Smith begged for their lives before Grant killed them.
Shirl Filcher, McElyea’s sister said the family can now move forward and will cherish fond memories of Brenda.
“Today marks 20 years, six months, nine days and just minutes since Brenda McElyea was taken from this world by Donald Grant, but today, justice was served,” Pilcher said.
“Justice is now served for Brenda McElyea, Felecia Suzette Smith, and the people of Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said in a press release.
Prosecutors said Grant fatally shot McElyea, then shot desk clerk Suzette Smith three times in the face. When Smith didn’t die, Grant cut her throat and hit her head with his gun and other objects.
During a November clemency hearing, Grant said he killed the two women so there would be no witnesses to his robbery of the Del City hotel. He expressed “deep, sincere remorse” and apologized for the killings before blaming his actions on the devil.
Defense attorneys said Grant was diagnosed multiple times with schizophrenia and claimed he was unfit to be executed.
Oklahoma’s parole board rejected his clemency with a 4-1 vote. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt could not intervene because the state’s governor can only commute a sentence with a recommendation from the board.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Grant’s execution stay request.
Sean Murphy, of the Associated Press, said 18 total witnesses, including five media witnesses, watched the execution from the viewing room. He said Grant provide a disjointed final statement, saying he loved various people and “I’m solid, peace.”
Media witnesses said after the lethal injection process started at 10:03 a.m., Grant lifted his head and mouthed “hold it down, hold the fort down, I’ll be back” to his family in the viewing room.
Grant continued talking before his eyelids drooped, his breathing became more labored, and he gave a large exhale at 10:06 a.m. A hooded prison staffer determined Grant was unconscious at 10:08 a.m. before a paralytic was administered, media witnesses said.
Murphy said Grant appeared to stop breathing at 10:11 a.m. and he was declared dead at 10:16 a.m. after a doctor checked for vitals.
Nolan Clay, an Oklahoman writer who also witnessed Grant’s execution, said the process seemed uneventful compared to previous lethal injections.
“‘Uneventful’ and i think that would be a good description for this one,” Clay said. Certainly not what we heard of the one in October.”
Oklahoma ended a nearly seven-year moratorium on lethal injections of death row inmates in October 2021 using the same three-drug mixture it used in a series of problematic one brought national scrutiny.
Attorneys for Donald Grant filed arguments that midazolam, one part of the three-drug cocktail the state of Oklahoma uses in lethal injections, is not appropriate for use in the procedure and claimed that the execution of John Grant on Oct. 28, 2021 subjected him “to severe pain and suffering over an extended period of time.”
Media witnesses said John Grant convulsed nearly two dozen times during his execution and prison officials wiped vomit from his face before he was pronounced dead.
U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot wrote in his ruling denying the stay that previous arguments show John Grant drank soda and ate chips within an hour of his scheduled execution.
Dr. Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City anesthesiologist who witnessed John Grant’s execution, testified vomiting was expected from someone “who has a significant amount of food and fluid in his stomach, is strapped down supine on a gurney and injected with a drug which quickly produces unconsciousness.” Yen also testified the convulsions indicated an obstructed airway and were not purposeful.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Cohen did not witness the execution but performed an autopsy on John Grant and concluded that the inmate more than likely “experienced conscious pain and suffering.”
Crow said Grant’s last meal was at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday.
“This morning, with our full faculties about us, Oklahoma killed a seriously mentally ill, schizophrenic, man who we had securely incarcerated for many years. What Mr. Grant had done was so very wrong; and so was what we just did. Perhaps he had come to know that; hopefully so will we,” Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Board Member Randy Bauman said.