BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A federal judge has issued an order effectively blocking the execution of Matthew Reeves, which had been scheduled for Jan. 27.
In a 37-page ruling issued on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker granted Reeves’ motion preventing his execution “by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia.” State officials have said as recently as Oct. 2021 that there is not yet a functional protocol for executing inmates via nitrogen suffocation.
Reeves, who was convicted of the 1996 murder of Willie Johnson, claims in his lawsuit that the state violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when they did not aid him in understanding a form that would have allowed him to opt into an execution via nitrogen suffocation.
“Reeves has shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his ADA claim and the equities weigh in his favor,” Huffaker wrote in Friday’s order. “Reeves has therefore established his right to a preliminary injunction that prevents the ADOC (Alabama Department of Corrections) from executing him by any method other than nitrogen hypoxia before his ADA claim can be decided on its merits.”
Huffaker noted that prison officials were “on notice that Reeves had IQ scores in the high 60s or low 70s, subaverage 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.”
An execution using nitrogen suffocation, which involves replacing oxygen needed to breathe with nitrogen gas, has never been carried out in the United States. Execution through the use of nitrogen suffocation was approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2018. Oklahoma and Mississippi as the only other states to allow the practice.
CBS 42 has reached out to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office to inquire about a possible appeal of Friday’s decision but has not yet heard back.