Alabama could see its first execution by nitrogen suffocation in the next few months.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Friday regarding the execution of Matthew Reeves. Reeves has been in prison for 23 years. He was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of a Dallas County man.
On Jan. 7, a federal judge blocked Reeves' execution. Reeves filed a complaint against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), claiming the state violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when they did not help him understand a form that would have allowed him to select an execution via nitrogen suffocation. Reeves has been determined as illiterate and has an IQ below 70.
The decision released by U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker stated that ADOC violated Reeves' rights and prohibited any form of execution except nitrogen suffocation.
Huffaker’s decision would delay Reeves' execution, but only until the state can develop a protocol for the novel method of execution. According to Richard Anderson, a lawyer representing the state attorney general’s office, Alabama could have a functioning method for nitrogen suffocation in a matter of months.
State attorneys called Huffaker’s ruling “clearly erroneous” in their appeal, stating that Huffaker had abused the court’s discretion.
The Eleventh Circuit Court has yet to release its decision. The ruling could determine whether Alabama sees its first execution by nitrogen suffocation if the court rules in favor of Reeves. If the court rules in favor of the state, Reeves' original execution date of Jan. 27 could stand.
In 2018, Alabama became one of only three states to permit execution by nitrogen suffocation but has of yet not had the appropriate means to carry it out. The method does not have a structured protocol, but it would involve replacing breathed oxygen with nitrogen, causing the individual to drift asleep and pass away. Some have argued that the method would be more humane, while others have likened it to human experimentation.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, no one has developed a protocol for nitrogen suffocation, nor has it been used for an execution in Alabama, despite three states making the practice legal.
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