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The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Oklahoma has never used firing squad as a method of executing prisoners since statehood. File photo: AP

US death row inmates seek ‘gruesome but quicker’ firing squad as alternative

  • Two Oklahoma death row inmates are scheduled to be executed by three-drug lethal injection cocktail
  • Firing squad execution typically involves shots from at least four high-powered rifles to the heart

Two Oklahoma death row inmates facing executions in the coming months offered firing squad as a less problematic alternative to the state’s three-drug lethal injection, one of their lawyers told a federal judge on Monday.

The two inmates – Donald Grant and Gilbert Postelle – want US District Judge Stephen Friot to grant them a temporary injunction that would delay their upcoming executions until a trial can be held over whether Oklahoma’s three-drug lethal injection method is constitutional.

A trial is set to begin before Friot on February 28, but Grant is scheduled to be put to death on January 27, while Postelle is set for execution on February 17.

“While it may be gruesome to look at, we all agree it will be quicker,” lawyer Jim Stronski told Friot after a day-long hearing in Oklahoma City.

Friot did not issue a decision Monday on the inmates’ motion, but said he hoped to release an order by the end of the week.

“There’s a lot for me to get my mind around,” Friot said.

The execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma. Photo: AP

Among the experts who testified was Dr James Williams, an emergency medicine specialist from Texas who has more than 40,000 hours of emergency room experience and who has extensively studied the use of firing squads.

US state makes inmates choose electric chair or firing squad

Williams, himself the victim of a gunshot wound to the chest area, testified that a firing squad involving shots from at least four high-powered rifles to the “cardiac bundle” of the heart would be so quick that an inmate wouldn’t feel pain. He also said that unlike lethal injection, there is an extremely low likelihood that the execution would be botched.

Oklahoma has never used firing squad as a method of executing prisoners since statehood, but current state law does allow for its use if other methods, like lethal injection, were determined to be unconstitutional or otherwise unavailable. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections does not currently have execution protocols in place for any method other than lethal injection.

Serial killer wanted a firing squad or poison gas. He got neither

Friot also heard testimony from Justin Farris, chief of operations at the Department of Corrections, about the recent lethal injections of death row inmates John Marion Grant and Bigler Stouffer late last year.

Farris, who was inside the death chamber for both executions, described the two lethal injections as being on “opposite ends of the spectrum”.

Convicted murderer John Marion Grant vomited and experienced convulsions as he was executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma, in October 2021. File photo: AP
Grant, who was declared dead after vomiting and convulsing on the gurney, was angry, hurling expletives and resisting the execution by trying to flex his arms and legs, Farris said. Stouffer, on the other hand, “was just as polite as you can imagine under the circumstances,” Farris said.

Farris also testified that the doctor who inserts the intravenous lines and helps oversee the lethal injections is paid US$15,000 for each execution he attends, as well as US$1,000 for every day of training. DOC policy prohibits the release of the names of execution team members, and the doctor wore a mask during both Grant’s and Stouffer’s executions.