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Appeals court upholds injunction blocking Alabama execution

Appeals court upholds injunction blocking Alabama execution
Matthew Reeves was scheduled to be executed Thursday. File Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Corrections

Jan. 26 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday left in place a preliminary injunction blocking the scheduled execution of an Alabama death row prisoner.

Matthew Reeves was scheduled to be executed Thursday for the 1996 slaying of Willie Johnson in Selma.

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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it agreed with a lower court, which ruled earlier this month that corrections officials didn't properly accommodate his intellectual disability when having him choose his preferred method of dying -- nitrogen hypoxia or another method -- within a 30-day period.

His lawyers said he was scheduled for execution because he didn't elect the new method of execution -- nitrogen hypoxia. They said, though, that he couldn't make the decision on the corrections department's form without additional help because of his intellectual disability.

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The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based non-profit that seeks to end excessive punishment in the United States, said evidence of Reeves' intellectual disability was never presented to the jury during his murder trial. He failed first, fourth and fifth grades, never advanced beyond middle school and has an IQ of 71, with a third-grade reading level.

"Notably, this is not a case where a defendant has asked a district court to enjoin a state from executing him altogether, regardless of the method of execution," the appellate court wrote. "Mr. Reeves requested only that the court prevent the [Alabama Department of Corrections] from executing him by any method other than the one he would have chosen but for the defendants' alleged violation of the [Americans with Disabilities Act], pending the resolution of his ADA claim."

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The EJI also takes issue with the fact that two jurors voted against a death sentence for Reeves. Alabama is the only state in which a defendant can be sentenced to death on a non-unanimous verdict.

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Reeves and his fellow defendants planned to commit a robbery in 1996, but when their car broke down, Johnson, a passing driver, stopped to assist them. They then decided to rob Johnson and Reeves fatally shot him.

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