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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Alabama Inmate Executed After Supreme Court Clears Way

A death row inmate was put to death late Thursday after the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling, clearing the way for the execution.

Death row inmate Matthew Reeves, 43, was pronounced dead at 9:24 pm CST after being administered a lethal injection, state Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement.

The nation’s high court on Thursday ruled 5–4 to lift an injunction from a lower court that had prevented the execution by lethal injection. Supreme Court Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer dissented in the decision.

Death row inmate Matthew Reeves, who was scheduled for execution on Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Alabama Department of Corrections)

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with a district court on Wednesday to grant Reeves a stay of execution, ruling that until the state could use nitrogen hypoxia, he could not be executed. Alabama then appealed, sending the case to the Supreme Court.

Reeves’ lawyers had argued that his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying that he had an intellectual disability and was not properly assisted to fill out a form that asked his preferred method of execution, a decision between lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia . Reeves later said he would have picked the nitrogen hypoxia—a less “torturous,” yet untried, execution method.

Reeves’ death sentence was over a murder conviction in 1996 after he was arrested for killing a man, Willie Johnson Jr., during a robbery. Johnson was a driver who gave Reeves a ride. Evidence showed Reeves went to a party afterward and celebrated the killing.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement that the victim, Johnson, was “a good Samaritan lending a helping hand” who was brutally murdered. She said that Reeves’ death sentence “is fair, and tonight, justice was rightfully served.”

Kagan, in a dissent (pdf) joined by Sotomayor and Breyer, wrote that the Supreme Court “has no other basis for reversing the detailed findings the District Court made to support the injunction.”

“As the lower courts recognized, the State will soon be ready to execute Reeves by nitrogen hypoxia,” she added. “A short delay cannot justify dismissing, as the Court does today, the strength of Reeves’s suit—or the careful work of the judges primarily responsible for assessing his case.”

In October 2021, Alabama inmate Willie B. Smith was put to death by lethal injection, after he had unsuccessfully appealed. Similar to Reeves’ case, Smith’s lawyers had argued that he had an intellectual disability and was therefore unable to make a decision about an execution method.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mimi Nguyen Ly


Mimi Nguyen Ly is a reporter covering world news with a focus on US news. Based in Australia, she has a background in clinical optometry. Contact Mimi at [email protected]


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