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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Alabama death row inmate Matthew Reeves will be able to re-select his method of execution. The court upheld a stay of execution, which was originally set for Thursday.
Reeves has been in prison for 23 years. He was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Willie Johnson, a Dallas County man, during a robbery.
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.
Experts had determined that Reeves could read at a fourth-grade level, but his comprehension was lower still. The court determined that ADOC had previous knowledge of Reeves, yet they still did not provide accommodation for him to understand the form he submitted, according to testimony.
"We, therefore, conclude that Mr. Reeves has satisfied the injury in fact element of Article III standing," the ruling read. "And that injury is imminent because his execution is set to take place this week by a more painful method he would not have chosen. "
The court further ruled that, although ADOC does not have a statutory obligation to provide death row inmates with an election form, once they undertook to do so, they were required to comply with the ADA. Namely, they were required by law to ensure that Reeves understood the form, which the court determined they did not.
The court has granted Reeves the ability to re-submit the execution form and select the method of execution that he desires but does not grant him a permanent stay of his execution. Reeves, in fact, did not seek a permanent stay of his execution in the filing. He requested only that the court prevent the ADOC from executing him by any method other than the one he would have chosen.
The ruling means that, barring any further appeals, clemency, or stays of execution, Reeves could be the first person in the U.S to be executed by nitrogen suffocation.
Richard Anderson, a lawyer representing the state's Attorney General's Office, stated that there could be a functioning method for nitrogen suffocation in a matter of months. However, the state has not yet developed a protocol for administering the method.
Whatever the protocol, nitrogen suffocation would involve replacing breathed oxygen with nitrogen, causing the individual to drift asleep and pass away.
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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