MONTGOMERY, Alabama (WIAT) – The state of Alabama appealed a federal judge’s order blocking the execution of Matthew Reeves later this month.
In a court document filed Monday, state attorneys called U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker’s decision “clearly wrong” and said the court “abused its discretion” in deciding that death row inmate Matthew Reeves’ Americans with Disabilities Act disability and need for accommodation was open and evident.
If the state’s appeal is successful, Reeves’ execution could take place on January 27.
In its 37 pages decision made on Friday, Huffaker granted Reeves’ request, preventing his execution “by any method other than nitrogenous hypoxia.” Huffaker, a Trump appointee, wrote that prison officials were “aware that Reeves had IQ scores in the 60s or 70s, below-average intellectual functioning, and was found to be functionally illiterate barely two months before giving him the election form and expecting him to understand it and use it without accommodation.
While Huffaker’s decision would technically allow Reeves to be executed by nitrogen suffocation, state officials said as recently as October that there was no working protocol yet for executing inmates in this way. An execution using the method, which involves replacing the oxygen needed to breathe with nitrogen gas, has never been performed in the United States. Oklahoma and Mississippi are the only other states to allow the practice.
Reeves’ lawsuit was filed after death row inmates were given a form to opt for death by nitrogen suffocation when the Alabama legislature first approved the method of execution in 2018. At trial, Reeves argued that his intellectual disability prevented him from understanding this form, adding that prison officials should have provided accommodation that would have helped him understand his options, as required by the ADA.
Reeves’ trial now moves to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments will take place in the case on January 21, just six days before Reeves’ scheduled execution date.
Reeves was convicted of the 1996 murder of Willie Johnson in Dallas County. A jury voted 10 to 2 to sentence him to death. He has now been in prison for over 23 years.
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