Alabama to execute man next year who shotgunned good samaritan to death

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, November 18, 2021

Alabama has set a January execution date for an inmate convicted in the 1996 shotgun killing of a man who towed his car after it broke down.

The Alabama Supreme Court on Thursday set a Jan. 27 lethal injection date for Matthew Reeves, 43. Reeves was sentenced to death for the Nov. 27, 1996. murder of Willie Johnson in Dallas County, Alabama.

In earlier court filings, Reeves’ attorneys have argued he has an IQ in the 60s and that his trial counsel failed to do enough to show he is intellectually disabled and should therefore be spared a death sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court in July reversed an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding and said that a state court had correctly rejected claims that Reeves had ineffective counsel at trial because they did not hire a neuropsychologist to present evidence he is intellectually disabled. The decision was issued as an unsigned 6-3 opinion.

Prosecutors said on the day of the slaying that Reeves, then 18, had gone with friends looking for people to rob, but their car broke down. Johnson came by in his pickup truck and offered to give them a ride and tow their car to Reeves’ house. Prosecutors said Reeves, who was riding in the bed of the truck, stuck a shotgun through the rear window of the cab and fatally shot Johnson in the neck.

“In payment for this act of kindness, Reeves murdered Johnson, stole his money, and mocked his dying spasms,” justices wrote in the majority opinion in July.

The trial judge sentenced Reeves to death on the recommendation of the jury.

Defense lawyers at Reeves’ trial had funds to hire a neuropsychologist, Dr. John Goff, but ultimately did not do so.

At a hearing on his postconviction appeal in state court, Goff testified he believed Reeves was intellectually disabled and that Reeves’ IQ score should be adjusted down into the 60s.

A state expert disputed that and pointed to the money that Reeves made from dealing drugs.

Lawyers for Reeves have argued that because of his intellectual difficulties that the state should have given him help with a form allowing inmates to select execution by nitrogen hypoxia. An Alabama inmate put to death last month had raised similar claims.

Reeves’ has a pending lawsuit in connection with the matter.

“Once again, the State of Alabama is attempting to execute an individual with a previously pending lawsuit instead of allowing the Federal court to consider his case in the normal course. Important issues of how the state treats cognitively disabled prisoners should not be decided in a rush solely because the state chooses to short circuit that process,” Reeves’ attorney, John Palombi, wrote in an email.