Federal appeals court blocks execution of Alabama inmate

Jan 26, 2022, 2:04 PM | Updated: 8:34 pm

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked the state from executing an inmate convicted of killing a driver who gave him a ride, upholding a lower court ruling that he can’t be put to death unless the state uses an untested, new method.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift a lower court order blocking the execution of Matthew Reeves. It was originally was set for Thursday and could still take place since the state attorney general’s office said it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Department of Corrections already has notified potential witnesses in the event it can move forward with the execution of Reeves, which was put on hold by a federal judge earlier this month. A Corrections spokeswoman said in a later email that the department was getting set to administer the lethal injection Thursday evening if it’s ultimately given official notice to proceed.

The state had asked the appeals court to lift a lower court injunction and allow the execution, but the panel refused in a decision that said a judge didn’t abuse his discretion in blocking the scheduled execution.

Reeves, 43, was sentenced to die for the murder of Willie Johnson, who was killed by a shotgun blast to the neck during a robbery in Selma on Nov. 27, 1996, after picking up Reeves and others on the side of a rural highway. Reeves was 18 at the time. Evidence showed he went to a party and celebrated the killing afterward.

The dying man was robbed of $360, and then Reeves danced and mimicked Johnson’s death convulsions at a party soon after, according to that evidence. A witness said Reeves’ hands were still stained with blood at the celebration, a court ruling said, and he bragged about getting a “teardrop” tattoo to signify that he’d killed someone.

The European Union ambassador to the United States, Stavros Lambrinidis, sent a letter asking Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to block the execution citing Reeves’ claims of an intellectual disability. Ivey also has received a clemency bid from Reeves’ attorneys and will consider all such requests, an aide said.

Alabama inmates had a chance to sign a form choosing either lethal inject o r nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method in 2018 after legislators approved the use of hydrogen, but Reeves was among the inmates who didn’t fill out the form stating a preference. A poor reader, Reeves is intellectually disabled and wasn’t capable of making such a decision without assistance that should have provided under the American With Disabilities Act, his lawyers argued.

With Reeves contending he would have chosen nitrogen hypoxia over lethal injection had he understood the form, the defense filed suit asking a court to halt the lethal injection citing the lack of assistance from prison officials under the law. U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker, Jr. blocked the execution, ruling that Reeves had a good chance of winning the claim.

While a defense expert concluded that Reeves reads at a first grade level and has the language competency of someone as young as 4, the state disagrees that Reeves has an intellectual disability that would prevent him from understanding his options. The inmate was able to read and signed other forms through the years, it argued.

An Alabama inmate who was put to death by lethal injection last year, Willie B. Smith, unsuccessfully raised claims about being intellectually unable to make the choice for nitrogen hypoxia.

The state has said it plans to have a system for the new execution method ready by the end of April, court documents show, but the state has argued against delaying Reeves’ execution until then.

Any delay is the fault of the state given how long it has taken to implement the new system, the 11th Circuit ruled.

In July, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an 11th U.S. Circuit finding and said a state court had correctly rejected claims that Reeves had ineffective counsel at trial because they did not hire a neuropsychologist to present evidence he is intellectually disabled.


This version corrects throughout that Alabama’s untested, new execution method is referred to as nitrogen hypoxia, not hydrogen hypoxia.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023...

Associated Press

Trump seethes through the start of trial in New York lawsuit accusing him of lying about his wealth

Former President Donald Trump spent a day in court Monday for the sometimes testy start of a trial in a fraud lawsuit that could cost him control of assets.

14 hours ago

FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the chamber at the Capitol in Washingt...

Associated Press

McCarthy rejects Senate spending bill while scrambling for a House plan that averts a shutdown

A government shutdown appeared all but inevitable as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dug in Thursday.

5 days ago

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Kari Lake reportedly plans to launch US Senate bid in Arizona for seat held by Kyrsten Sinema

Republican Kari Lake will soon launch her campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by independent Kyrsten Sinema, a senior adviser said Thursday.

5 days ago

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jers...

Associated Press

3rd Republican presidential debate is set for Nov. 8 in Miami, with the strictest qualifications yet

The third Republican presidential debate will be held in Miami on Nov. 8, a day after several states hold off-year elections.

11 days ago

During the equinox, the Earth’s axis and its orbit line up so that both hemispheres get an equal ...

Associated Press

The fall equinox is here. What does that mean?

The equinox arrives on Saturday, marking the start of the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere. But what does that actually mean?

11 days ago

Ray Epps Ray Epps, an Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, ...

Associated Press

Ray Epps, an Arizona man who supported Trump, pleads guilty to Capital riot charge

Ray Epps, the target of a conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.


Ignite Digital

How to unlock the power of digital marketing for Phoenix businesses

All businesses around the Valley hopes to maximize their ROI with current customers and secure a greater market share in the digital sphere.


Mayo Clinic

Game on! Expert sports physicals focused on you

With tryouts quickly approaching, now is the time for parents to schedule physicals for their student-athlete. The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires that all student-athletes must have a physical exam completed before participating in team practices or competition.

Federal appeals court blocks execution of Alabama inmate