Despite a judicial order issued nearly three weeks ago that blocked it, Alabama Department of Corrections officials said this week the execution of Matthew Reeves will proceed as scheduled this Thursday, January 27, barring any last-minute notifications.
Reeves was sentenced to die for the 1996 robbery-murder of 38-year-old Willie Johnson Jr. of Selma, who came to Reeves’s aid when Reeves had car trouble. He is set to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. CST at William C. Holman Correctional Facility.
Attorneys for Reeves have challenged his execution in that manner, arguing that the state violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act when prison officials did not help him understand a form that would have allowed him to choose nitrogen suffocation as his means of execution.
A nitrogen suffocation execution involves replacing oxygen needed to breathe with nitrogen gas, and such an execution has never been carried out in the United States. Execution by nitrogen suffocation was approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2018, and the state joined Oklahoma and Mississippi as the only ones to allow the practice.
Reeves, now 43, claims to be intellectually disabled, with an IQ in the upper 60s and lower 70s. He argues that the state did not accommodate his disability when it gave him a form asking him to choose whether he wanted to die by hydrogen gas or another method.
A U.S. District Court Judge ruled that the death row inmate can only be executed by hydrogen gas, but the state contends it has not yet developed protocols for such a method of execution.
Reeves, his brother and a Selma woman were convicted of capital murder in the slaying of Johnson, a public housing employee who towed Reeves’ broken-down car. Johnson’s body was found inside his truck on Thanksgiving morning 1996.
Julius Reeves, the condemned killer’s brother, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The third defendant, Brenda Scuttles, is serving life with the possibility of parole.