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Supreme Court clears way for execution of Alabama inmate : NPR

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Supreme Court clears way for execution of Alabama inmate : NPR

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The sun sets behind Holman Jail in Atmore, Alabama on Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court clears the way for the execution of Matthew Reeves, convicted of murdering a man in a robbery 1996.

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Supreme Court clears way for execution of Alabama inmate : NPR

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The sun sets behind Holman Jail in Atmore, Alabama on Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court clears the way for the execution of Matthew Reeves, convicted of murdering a man in a robbery 1996.

Jay Reeves/AP

ATMORE, Alabama — The United States Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday night for the state of Alabama to execute an inmate who argued that intellectual disability combined with state inattention cost him a chance avoid lethal injection and choose a new method.

The nation’s highest court upheld a state request to lift a lower court order that had prevented prison workers from executing Matthew Reeves. The state earlier said it was prepared to execute Reeves, 43, by lethal injection at Holman Jail if advised to proceed. The execution was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

Reeves was convicted of killing a driver who drove him in 1996. Reeves claimed the state failed to help him figure out a form that would have allowed him to choose a new method of execution that involved nitrogen, but the state argued that he was not that disabled. he couldn’t understand the choice.

A divided court accepted the state’s offer to let the execution continue. Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she would deny the state’s request, while Justice Stephen Breyer, who just announced his retirement, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Elena Kagan in a dissent that said the execution should not take place.

Reeves had daytime visits and phone calls with his mother and sister and was moved to a holding cell near the death chamber pending the court’s decision, Deputy Commissioner Jeffery Williams said. Reeves also spoke with his attorney by phone and declined a final meal, he said.

The state previously asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a lower court injunction and allow enforcement, but Wednesday’s panel declined and said a judge did not abuse his discretion in deciding that the state could not execute Reeves. by any 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.

After the dying man was robbed of $360, Reeves, then 18, went to a party where he danced and imitated Johnson’s fatal convulsions, authorities said. A witness said Reeves’ hands were still stained with blood during the celebration, according to a court ruling.

Supreme Court clears way for execution of Alabama inmate : NPR

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Lawyers for Matthew Reeves argued that intellectual disability combined with state inattention cost him a chance to avoid lethal injection and choose a new method of execution.

Alabama Department of Corrections / via AP


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Alabama Department of Corrections / via AP

Supreme Court clears way for execution of Alabama inmate : NPR

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Lawyers for Matthew Reeves argued that intellectual disability combined with state inattention cost him a chance to avoid lethal injection and choose a new method of execution.

Alabama Department of Corrections / via AP

Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union Ambassador to the United States, had sent a letter both condemning Johnson’s murder and asking Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to block the execution because of the Reeves’ intellectual disability claim. Ivey also received a clemency offer from Reeves’ attorneys but has not issued a decision.

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 lawyers 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 has filed a lawsuit asking a court to stop the lethal injection. U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. blocked the execution plans, ruling that Reeves had a good chance of winning the claim under the Disabilities Act.

A defense expert found that Reeves reads at a grade one level and has the language proficiency of someone as young as 4, but the state disagreed that Reeves had a disability that would prevent him from understanding his options.

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.

Supreme Court clears way for execution of Alabama inmate : NPR

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