Catholic group decries Oklahoma execution, during which inmate vomited

Lethal injection Credit Samrith Na Lumpoon Shutterstock CNA Samrith Na Lumpoon/Shutterstock.

A Catholic organization is calling on Oklahoma to stop executing prisoners following yet another botched execution Thursday afternoon.  

Oklahoma executed John Marion Grant, the first of seven scheduled executions in the next six months, on Oct. 28. According to onlookers, Grant began convulsing and vomiting after being administered midazolam, the first drug in a three-drug cocktail used in lethal injections. Prison officials wiped Grant’s vomit off of his face and neck after “several minutes,” per the AP. 

Grant was declared dead at 4:21 p.m., six minutes after he was officially described as unconscious. 

“Oklahoma’s track record for botched executions is nothing short of horrendous,” said Krisanne Vaillancout Murphy, Executive Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network in a statement released by the group Oct. 29 which called the state’s execution protocol “particularly egregious.”

“The excessive pain and suffering experienced by John Grant during his execution last night warrants an immediate halt to the six pending execution dates in Oklahoma through March of next year,” she added.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said it was “notable and unusual” for a condemned prisoner to vomit during their execution. Dunham told the Associated Press that he had “never heard of or seen that” prior to Grant’s execution. 

Grant was sentenced to death in 1999, after he murdered a prison worker named Gay Carter. At the time of the murder, he was serving a 130-year sentence for armed robbery. 

Grant’s execution was the first in the state of Oklahoma since the botched execution of Charles Frederick Warner in 2015. Following Warner’s execution, it was discovered that officials had used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride to carry out the execution. 

Warner had previously been scheduled to die the same night as Clayton Lockett, but his execution was delayed after Lockett’s went awry. Medical professionals repeatedly failed to insert an IV into Lockett’s veins, and the execution was halted after 33 minutes. 

Lockett died 10 minutes after the execution was paused due to a massive heart attack.

While the Church teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice in the West.

Regarding the execution of criminals, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that by its “legal and judicious exercise” civil authorities “punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

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Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri continued.

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