OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject clemency for a man convicted of killing two Del City hotel workers in 2001, with two members noting the particularly heinous nature of the killings.
The vote paves the way for the state to execute 45-year-old Donald Grant on Jan. 27 unless a court intervenes.
Grant admitted killing Brenda McElyea and Felicia Suzette Smith, both employees of the LaQuinta Inn in Del City, so that there would be no witnesses to his robbery of the hotel. Both women were shot and stabbed, and court records show Grant also repeatedly bludgeoned McElyea as she begged Grant to spare her life.
“I can't change that," Grant said of the crime during a 20-minute address to the board that was occasionally rambling and disjointed. “If I could, I would, but I can't change that."
Grant also expressed “deep, sincere remorse" and apologized for the killings.
Grant’s attorneys, both from the federal public defender's office, argued that he was mentally ill and had suffered brain damage that made him a candidate for mercy. They also discussed Grant's childhood growing up in a New York City housing project during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, a time when he was frequently beaten and members of his family experienced alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness.
“Executing Donald Grant will stand against the tide of history," said Federal Public Defender Susan Otto. “Mercy is called for in this case. It recognizes this man, mentally ill and brain damaged, is not a just target of execution."
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement after the board’s vote that Grant’s death sentence was “just and appropriate.”
“This conviction and sentence was affirmed after years of thorough review by the appellate courts,” O’Connor said. “I am grateful that the board denied Grant’s request for executive clemency. Our thoughts and prayers are now with the families of Brenda McElyea and Suzette Smith.”
The board heard from McElyea's sister and aunt, who both tearfully urged them to reject clemency for Grant, and from retired Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes, who described the killings of the two women as “one of the most heinous and gruesome homicides I've ever dealt with."
McElyea's sister, Shirl Filcher, recalled the pain she experienced when she had to tell their father that McElyea had been killed.
“I had to call my dad and tell him his daughter, his baby girl, was dead," Filcher said. “I had never seen him cry, but that night I heard him weep and it broke my heart."
Board member Adam Luck, an appointee of Gov. Kevin Stitt who has previously raised concerns about the Department of Corrections' ability to humanely execute inmates, was the only member who voted to recommend clemency.
Kelly Doyle, also a Stitt appointee, said the heinous nature of Grant's crime outweighed the mitigating factors raised by his defense.
“For me, the horror of this particular crime goes beyond the pale," Doyle said.
Larry Morris, an appointee of the Court of Criminal Appeals, said concerns he expressed about the state's lethal injection method during a board meeting earlier this month have been alleviated by a federal judge who said after a daylong hearing that he was confident Oklahoma's executions are constitutional.