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Man Executed For 1996 Killing After Supreme Court Votes Down Last-Minute Appeal

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on :
Man Executed For 1996 Killing After Supreme Court Votes Down Last-Minute Appeal
Man Executed For 1996 Killing After Supreme Court Votes Down Last-Minute Appeal (Alabama Department of Corrections/Alamy)

An inmate has been controversially put to death for a murder that took place nearly 26 years ago.

On Thursday, January 27, the US Supreme Court lifted a court order and put 43-year-old Matthew Reeves to death via lethal injection.

The defence had tried to fight for a less 'torturous' method of execution, claiming that Reeves had an intellectual disability, however the court decided to side with the state.

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Reeves was pronounced dead at 9.24pm CST.

On November 27, 1996, a driver named Willie Johnson Jr. was shot and killed with a gun after he picked up a number of people, including Reeves, from the side of a highway in Selma.

Evidence from the case revealed that after the killing, which saw Johnson robbed of a total of $360, Reeves went on to attend a party, where he allegedly mocked and mimicked Johnson's death. An eyewitness claimed that Reeves' hands were still stained with blood at the party, AP News reports.

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Reeves was later convicted of capital murder for Johnson's death.

Up until the execution, Reeves' lawyers tried to fight for the ruling to be overturned, arguing that he had an intellectual disability and subsequently had different rights under federal disability law. They also questioned the method in which the state planned to execute Reeves.

In 2018, inmates on death row in Alabama were given a choice between death by lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia, after the method of inmates breathing in nitrogen opposed to oxygen was approved by legislators.

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However, Reeves did not fill out the form, which his lawyers argued was because of his first grade reading level and language competency of a four-year-old, and a lack of help from the state. They subsequently sued under the American With Disabilities Act.

A district judge previously ruled that Reeves had to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, despite the method having never been used before.

On Wednesday, January 26, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge hadn't made the wrong call. However, on Thursday evening, the Supreme Court overturned the decision.

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The execution was given the go ahead to proceed, but via lethal injection, though the decision was reached by a very divided court, with a number of Justices split on the decision.

'The immense authority of the Supreme Court should be used to protect its citizens, not to strip them of their rights without explanation,' Reeves' attorney stated.

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals had been asked by the state to allow the execution and lift a lower court injunction, however on Wednesday the panel refused.

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It was only when Alabama appealed case to the nation's highest court that the order went through.

Governor Kay Ivey said Johnson Jr. was a 'good Samaritan lending a helping hand', and that the sentencing of Reeves to death by lethal injection was 'fair'.

'Tonight, justice was rightfully served,' she said.

Johnson's family were reportedly present at Reeves' execution, according to prison officials.

A written statement from the family read: 'After 26 years justice [has] finally been served. Our family can now have some closure.'

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677 

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Poppy Bilderbeck

Poppy Bilderbeck is a Junior Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from The University of Manchester in 2021 with a First in English Literature and Drama, where alongside her studies she was Editor-in-Chief of The Tab Manchester. She currently runs the mental health column for UNILAD, and is such a crisp fanatic that the office has now been forced to release them in batches.

Topics: News, US News