MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The State of Alabama has appealed a federal judge’s order blocking the execution of Matthew Reeves later this month.
In a court document filed Monday, attorneys for the state called U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker’s decision “clearly erroneous” and said the court “abused its discretion” in ruling that death row inmate Matthew Reeves’ disability and need for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act were open and obvious.
If the state’s appeal is successful, Reeves’ execution could move forward on Jan. 27.
In his 37-page ruling issued on Friday, Huffaker granted Reeves’ motion, preventing his execution “by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia.” Huffaker, a Trump appointee, wrote that prison officials were “on notice that Reeves had IQ scores in the high 60s or low 70s, sub-average intellectual functioning, and had been found to be functionally illiterate a mere two months before it handed him the election form and expected him to comprehend and utilize it without accommodation.”
While Huffaker’s ruling would technically allow Reeves’ execution by nitrogen suffocation, state officials have said as recently as October that there was not yet a functional protocol for executing inmates in that manner. An execution using the method, which involves replacing oxygen needed to breathe with nitrogen gas, has never been carried out 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 provided a form to opt into death by nitrogen suffocation when the Alabama legislature first approved the method of execution in 2018. In the lawsuit, Reeves argued that his intellectual disability prevented him from understanding that form, adding that prison officials should have provided an accommodation that would have helped him in understanding his options, as required by the ADA.
Reeves’ lawsuit now moves to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments will be held in the case on Jan. 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 10-2 to sentence him to death. He has now been in prison for over 23 years.