Supreme Court Considers Alabama’s Request to Allow Execution



BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday considered whether to let Alabama execute a death row inmate who claims intellectual disability combined with state inattention cost him a chance at avoid lethal injection and choose a less “tortuous” but unproven method.

The Alabama attorney general’s office has asked judges to lift a lower court order that prevented prison staff from putting to death Matthew Reeves, who was convicted of killing a driver who drove him , then celebrating the man’s murder at a party with still blood. his hands.

The state said it was preparing to execute Reeves, 43, by lethal injection at Holman Jail in case the court clears him to proceed as scheduled at 6 p.m. CST.

The state had previously asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a lower court injunction and allow enforcement, but the panel declined on Wednesday and said a judge did not abuse his discretion in deciding that the state could not execute Reeves at all. method other than nitrogen hypoxia, which has never been used. Alabama appealed that decision, sending the case back to the Supreme Court.

Reeves was sentenced to death for the murder of Willie Johnson, who was killed by a shotgun blast to the neck during a robbery in Selma on November 27, 1996, after picking up Reeves and others on the edge of a rural road. Eighteen at the time, Reeves went to a party and then celebrated the murder, according to evidence.

After the dying man was robbed of $360, Reeves danced and imitated Johnson’s fatal convulsions at a party, authorities said. A witness says Reeves’ hands were still stained with blood at the celebration, according to a court ruling, and he bragged about getting a ‘teardrop’ tattoo to signify he killed someone a.

Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union Ambassador to the United States, sent a letter both condemning Johnson’s murder and asking Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to block the execution because of allegations of Reeves regarding an intellectual disability. Ivey also received a clemency offer from Reeves’ lawyers and will consider all such requests, an aide said.

While the courts upheld Reeves’ conviction, the last-minute fight to stop the execution involved his intellect, his rights under federal disability law and how the state planned to kill him.

Alabama switched from the electric chair to lethal injection after 2002, and in 2018 lawmakers approved the use of another method, nitrogen hypoxia, amid injection defense challenges and shortages of chemicals needed for the procedure. The new method of hypoxia, which has not been used in the United States, would cause death by replacing the oxygen the inmate breathes with nitrogen.

Alabama inmates had the chance to sign a form choosing either lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia as their method of execution in 2018 after lawmakers approved the use of nitrogen. But Reeves was among the inmates who did not fill out the form indicating a preference.

Bad reader, Reeves is intellectually disabled and was not capable of making such a decision without the help that should have been provided under the American With Disabilities Act, his attorneys argued. A prison worker who gave Reeves a form did not offer help to help him figure it out, they said.

With Reeves claiming he would have chosen nitrogen hypoxia over a “torturing” lethal injection had he understood the form, the defense filed a lawsuit asking a court to stop the lethal injection. U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. blocked the execution, ruling that Reeves had a good chance of winning the motion under the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

A defense expert has concluded that Reeves reads at a grade one level and has the language proficiency of someone as young as 4, but the state disagrees that Reeves has a disability that would prevent him from understanding his options. The inmate was able to read and sign other forms over the years, he argued, and authorities had no obligation under state law to help him choose a method.

Alabama said it plans to have a system for the new execution method ready by the end of April, according to court documents, but the state objected to delaying Reeves’ execution . Any postponement is the fault of the state given the time it took to implement the new system, the 11th Circuit said.

An Alabama inmate who was put to death by lethal injection last year, Willie B. Smith, unsuccessfully claimed he was intellectually incapable of choosing nitrogen hypoxia.

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