‘Functionally Illiterate’ Death Row Inmate Couldn’t Understand a Form Letting Him Choose His Execution Method

A man from Alabama was sentenced to death this month, despite grave questions regarding his mental ability and execution method. A federal judge intervened in the case of the prisoner on Friday.

Matthew Reeves was found guilty of the 1996 brutal murder. Reeves, along with two other friends, had gone out “looking for robberies” one night before the car they were driving stopped on the side road. Reeves and his friends ran into a truck driver who offered help. Reeves took the car and shot it, killing the driver. Reeves was sentenced and both of their friends were given life sentences.

However, there were always questions about Reeves’ mental ability. Reeves’ IQ is around 70 according to recent testing, which “shows that he has the ability to think and reason.”Significantly subaverage intellectual functioning“, “Important Multiple areas of adaptive functioning are in decline.” 2002 was the year that Supreme Court decided. Atkins v. VirginiaIt is illegal to execute a person suffering from severe intellectual disabilities. However, it’s up to the state to determine. intellectual disabilitiesFor themselves.

Reeves was sentenced to death by lethal injection. This is the most common method of execution in America. Reeves, who is located in Alabama had theoretically the right to choose nitrogen as his method of death.

An Oklahoma lawmaker suggested the nitrogen method after a string of failed executions caused drug companies to stop supplying sedatives to lethal injection cocktails. About four parts nitrogen to every one part oxygen make up the air that we inhale. A person being executed would in theory breathe pure nitrogen. It would slowly replace oxygen in the body and eventually render them unconscious. The “nitrogen hypoxia” procedure is supported by those who believe it will be painless and gradual.

Although there is not much evidence to support the effectiveness of this method, it has been approved by three states including Alabama. They also plan on implementing it. Alabama passed a law authorizing the use of this method, which allows for condemned prisoners to decide between electrocution and nitrogen hypoxia. The procedure is less painful and has a strategic advantage. Alabama is not yet ready to use it. The sentence to nitrogen death is for those inmates who have chosen in.

But the 2018 law that authorized the method’s use in Alabama contained an odd provision: A condemned prisoner could only opt for nitrogen hypoxia if the choice was “personally made by the person in writing and delivered to the warden of the correctional facility within 30 days” of his sentencing—or, if he had already been sentenced, within 30 days of June 1, 2018, the day the law went into effect. According to the state, prisoners were informed by inmates that the prison was not required to disclose the choice. Montgomery AdvertiserIt was only days before the deadline that they became aware of this fact.

Reeves got a form that could have allowed him to choose nitrogen hypoxia during the five-day period. Because he was unsure of what the form meant, he refused to fill it out. Reeves sought to opt-in to nitrogen hypoxia, rather than lethal injection. He claimed that his state failed to give him any additional support.

U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. issued a preliminary order on Friday to stop the state’s execution of Reeves by lethal injection. Huffaker allowed the reprieve because Reeves was found to be functionally illiterate, with reading and comprehension levels comparable with elementary school students. According to the ADA, Reeves should have been provided with some “reasonable accommodations” in distributing the forms. It hasn’t yet stated whether the state plans to appeal this decision. Last year, the Supreme Court rejected to hear the case of another Alabama inmate. This was executed in October by lethal injection.

Alabama’s artificial 30 day timeline for nitrogen hypoxia selection was unnecessary. It also imposes additional burdens upon death row inmates. The same holds true for people with mental disabilities who account for a large percentage of executed prisoners each year. While there is so far no evidence that nitrogen hypoxia will accomplish what its supporters claim—humane and painless execution—it should still be available as an option for those sentenced to death. Lethal injection can often be painfully and horribly botched.

Reeves deserves to be punished, however. Reeves’ crime was horrible and senseless and his sentence should reflect this. However, it goes against all reasonable expectations that the government would kill someone who is unable to perform basic intellectual functions.

Death penalty is intrinsically inhumane. In an ideal world the state wouldn’t have any authority to choose who lives and dies. However, if the government is determined to execute prisoners it must allow them to choose the best way for their survival.