BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The State of Alabama believes it will finalize its protocol for executing death row inmates by nitrogen suffocation “within months.”
In a federal court hearing held Friday afternoon, Richard Anderson, a lawyer representing the state attorney general’s office, said that while the state could not provide a “date certain,” officials believe an execution protocol using nitrogen suffocation will be completed “within months.”
“It may be as late as the end of April or the beginning of May,” Anderson told a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
An execution using the method, which involves replacing oxygen needed to breathe with nitrogen gas, has never been carried out in the United States. The use of nitrogen suffocation was approved by the Alabama Legislature in 2018, with those on death row able to “opt-into” an execution using the method. Oklahoma and Mississippi are the only other states to allow the practice.
The revelation regarding the timing of nitrogen suffocation executions came in the case of Matthew Reeves, a condemned inmate who says state prison officials have violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Reeves has argued in federal court that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) was required by law, but did not, provide him help to understand the form that could’ve allowed him to choose death by nitrogen suffocation.
Earlier this month, a federal judge said Reeves’ argument was “substantially likely” to succeed in court and issued an order blocking his execution, which was scheduled for Jan. 27.
In a 37-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge R. Austin Huffaker noted that prison officials were “on notice that Reeves had IQ scores in the high 60s or low 70s, sub-average intellectual functioning, and had been found to be functionally illiterate a mere two months before it handed him the election form and expected him to comprehend and utilize it without accommodation.”
The State of Alabama has appealed that decision, saying the order by Huffaker, a Trump appointee, was “clearly erroneous” and that the court had “abused its discretion” in ruling that death row inmate Matthew Reeves’ disability and need for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act were open and obvious.
A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on that appeal in Friday’s hearing. A ruling in the appeal will decide the fate of Matthew Reeves, whose scheduled execution on Jan. 27 could move forward if the state’s appeal is granted. Ultimately, the case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a 6-3 vote rejected Reeves’ claims of ineffective counsel in July 2021.