ATMORE, Ala (WIAT) – The State of Alabama has executed Matthew Reeves, an intellectually disabled Black man, for the 1996 murder of Willie Johnson in Dallas County. He was pronounced dead at 9:24 p.m., according to a prison official.
Reeves’ execution had been set for 6 p.m. but was delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court considered an appeal of a stay preventing his lethal injection. Around 7:30 p.m., the court lifted the stay and the execution process moved forward.
Reeves’ execution began around 9:03 p.m. He spoke no final words.
Reeves grimaced as the process began, glancing at the IV line entering his left arm. His arms outstretched and held down by straps, wrapped tightly in a white sheet, Reeves looked around the room as the execution proceeded.
By 9:10, Reeves’ eyes were closed, but his breathing appeared labored.
A prison official then performed a consciousness test on Reeves, waving his hand over Reeves’ face and pinching his upper arm. At the time of the test, Reeves still appeared to be breathing.
By 9:13, all movement has ceased.
The curtain to the execution chamber closed at 9:18 p.m.
ADOC Commissioner John Hamm spoke at a press conference after the execution, delivering a statement provided by the family of Willie Johnson.
“After 26 years, justice have finally been served,” the statement said. “Our family can now have some closure.”
The day before his execution, Reeves was visited by his mother, his sister, and an investigator with the Federal Defenders’ office, according to ADOC Deputy Commissioner Jeffery Williams. He spoke on the phone twice, once with a friend and once with a lawyer.
On the day of his execution, Reeves was visited by his mother and sister, the official said. He also spoke over the phone with them, as well as his attorneys.
Reeves refused breakfast, lunch, and a final meal today, Williams said, although the prison official indicated Reeves was “observed drinking a Sprite.”
Reeves made no special requests of the government that would execute him.
He was moved to a holding cell outside of the execution chamber the evening of his execution.
Although Reeves died by lethal injection, he had expressed his desire to be executed by nitrogen suffocation, a method approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2018.
An execution using the method, which involves replacing oxygen needed to breathe with nitrogen gas, has never been carried out in the United States. Oklahoma and Mississippi are the only other states that have authorized its use.
Inmates were given the option to choose whether to be executed through lethal injection or nitrogen suffocation during a 30-day period in 2018, but Reeves did not opt-in during that time. Reeves’ lawyers have argued that he would have done so if he were able to understand the form prison officials provided him on the issue. Because they did not provide Smith, whose IQ is around 70, an accommodation to better understand his options, prison officials violated the inmate’s right under the Americans with Disabilities Act, his lawyers have said.
In December, a federal district court ruled that Reeves was “substantially likely” to prevail in court on his disability claim. Alabama appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but a three-judge panel rejected the state’s appeal, keeping in place the order preventing Reeves’ execution.
On Thursday, the US Supreme Court lifted that stay in a 5-4 vote, resulting in Reeves’ death by lethal injection.