Oklahoma Board Rejects Clemency for Death Row Inmate Who Attorneys Argue Is Mentally Ill

Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board rejected clemency Tuesday for a death row inmate whose lawyers argued is mentally ill and suffers from brain damage, the Associated Press said.

In 2001, Donald Grant, now 45, robbed the LaQuinta Inn in Del City, then killed two employees so there would be no witnesses. Brenda McElyea and Felicia Suzette Smith were both shot and stabbed.

Grant addressed the pardon board, saying if he could go back and change the past, he would, but he can't. He also apologized for the murders and expressed "deep, sincere remorse."

When trying to get clemency for Grant, his attorneys argued that his mental illness and troubled childhood should be considered.

As a child, Grant was frequently abused and beaten by family members. He grew up around a family that suffered from 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."

Retired Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes also addressed the board and described the murders as "one of the most heinous and gruesome homicides I've ever dealt with."

The pardon board rejected the request for clemency in a 4-1 vote Tuesday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Oklahoma, Federal Prison, Death Row Inmate
Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board rejected clemency Tuesday in a 4-1 vote for a death row inmate whose lawyers argued is mentally ill and suffers from brain damage. Above, the prison yard at El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, is seen during a visit by then-President Barack Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, in his push for prison reform. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The vote paved the way for the state to execute Grant on Jan. 27, 2022, unless a court intervenes.

Court records showed Grant also repeatedly bludgeoned McElyea as she begged him 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's lawyers also discussed his childhood growing up in a New York City housing project during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, when he was frequently beaten and members of his family experienced alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness.

The board also heard from McElyea's sister and aunt, who both tearfully urged them to reject clemency for Grant.

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 Governor 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.