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Alabama man executed for 1996 murder following Supreme Court ruling

Alabama on Thursday executed an inmate convicted of murdering a driver that gave him a ride in 1996.

The Supreme Court sided with the state and rejected claims that his intellectual disability misled him to accept death by means of lethal injection rather than a new, alternative method recently legalized by the state.

The execution of 44-year-old Matthew Reeves had been temporarily blocked by a lower court after he claimed the state did not help him understand the paperwork that would have allowed him to be executed via nitrogen hypoxia.

However, the state contended that he was intellectually sound enough to fill out the form. The Supreme Court agreed in a 5 to 4 vote.

According to a defense expert, Reeves read at a first-grade level and had the language skills of a 4-year-old. 

He was executed at 9:24 p.m. local time at the Holman Prison on Thursday, according to the Alabama Attorney General.

Liberal judges Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer – who just announced his retirement – wrote in a dissent that the execution should not take place. Trump-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she would deny the state’s request as well.

The Supreme Court agreed in a 5 to 4 vote that Reeves was intellectually sound enough to fill out paperwork to accept death by means of lethal injection.
AP

Alabama deputy commissioner Jeffery Williams said Reeves had visits with family members on Thursday before he was moved to a cell closer to the death chamber in anticipation of the court’s decision.

He declined a last meal.

Reeves was sentenced to death for shooting and killing Willie Johnson with a shotgun after he had picked up Reeves and others on the side of a rural highway in 1996 when Reeves was 18 years old. He allegedly went to a party afterward where he danced and reenacted the killing in celebration while Johnson’s blood was still on his hands.

Reeves was executed at Holman Prison in Atmore, Ala. on Thursday.
Reeves was executed at Holman Prison in Atmore, Ala. on Thursday.
AP

The Supreme Court on Thursday evening tossed out a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had ruled Wednesday that a district judge didn’t abuse his discretion in ruling that the state couldn’t execute Reeves by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia, which has never been used in the state, although has been legal since 2018 when death row inmates were given a form to state their preference of execution.

Reeves sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming he was intellectually disabled and was unable to comprehend the form. He said he would have chosen to die via nitrogen hypoxia rather than “torturous” lethal injection, but was not given any assistance in filling it out, his lawyers said.

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