Matthew Reeves was sentenced to death by the State of Alabama for a murder committed during a robbery. According to court documents Matthew Reeves and his brother Julius would rob the victim and would shoot and kill him during the robbery. Matthew Reeves would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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On November 27, 1996, Matthew Reeves (who was 18 years old at the time) and his younger brother, Julius, visited Brenda Suttles and Suttles’s 15-year-old cousin, Emanuel, at Suttles’s house on Lavender Street in Selma. There, according to Suttles, everyone agreed to go out “looking for some robberies.” (R. 684.) Shortly after noon that day, the foursome left Suttles’s house on foot and walked to a nearby McDonald’s restaurant, where they saw Jason Powell driving by in his car. The appellant’s brother, Julius, flagged Powell down, and Powell agreed to give the group a ride.
Brenda Suttles and Emanuel Suttles testified that after the foursome got into Powell’s car, Julius Reeves suggested that they go to White Hall, a town in neighboring Lowndes County, to rob a drug dealer. According to Brenda Suttles, everyone in the car agreed to the plan. (Powell, who also testified at trial, denied hearing the discussion about a robbery.) Before leaving Selma, the group stopped at an apartment on Broad Street. Julius Reeves went inside the apartment and returned to the car a short time later carrying a shotgun, which he handed to the appellant. With Powell driving, the group then headed for White Hall.
Before they reached White Hall, however, Powell’s car broke down on a dirt road off Highway 80. Shortly thereafter, a passing motorist, Duane Smith, stopped and told the group that he was in a hurry to meet some friends to go hunting, but that he would return around sunset and would take them to get help then. For the next couple of hours, the group sat in Powell’s car and listened to music, until another passing motorist, Willie Johnson, stopped in his pickup truck and offered to tow Powell’s car to Selma. Using some chains that he kept in his pickup truck, Johnson hooked Powell’s car to the back of his truck. With Julius Reeves riding in the truck with him and the others in Powell’s car, Johnson towed the car to the Selma residence where the appellant and Julius lived with their mother.
When they arrived at the Reeveses’ house, Julius Reeves got out of Johnson’s truck and told the others that Johnson wanted $25 for towing them. However, no one had any money to pay Johnson. Julius Reeves then offered to give Johnson a ring as payment if Johnson would drive him to his girlfriend’s house to get the ring. Johnson agreed and he unhooked Powell’s car from his truck. According to Jason Powell and Emanuel Suttles, Julius Reeves at this point told the others that Johnson was going to be their robbery victim. While Jason Powell and Emanuel Suttles stayed behind with Powell’s car in front of the Reeveses’ house, Julius Reeves got back in the cab of the truck with Johnson, and Brenda Suttles climbed into the rear bed of the truck. Testimony indicated that when Johnson started the truck, the appellant jumped into the rear bed of the truck with the shotgun, hiding the weapon behind his leg as he did so.
When they arrived at Julius’s girlfriend’s house in Johnson’s truck, Julius went inside and retrieved the ring he had promised to give Johnson as payment. According to Brenda Suttles, when Julius came out of the house, he walked to the rear of Johnson’s truck and told her and the appellant that he was not going to let Johnson keep the ring. After Julius got back in the cab of the truck, Johnson drove everyone back to the Reeveses’ house.
Jason Powell and Emanuel Suttles, who had remained at the house with Powell’s car, testified that sometime around 7:00 p.m., they saw Johnson’s truck drive by the house and turn into an alley-known as Crockett’s Alley-behind the house. According to Brenda Suttles, who was in the rear bed of the truck with the appellant, just as the truck came to a stop in the alley, she heard a loud “pow” sound. (R. 704.) Suttles testified that when she looked up, the appellant was withdrawing the barrel of the shotgun from the open rear window of the truck’s cab. Johnson had been shot in the neck and was slumped over in the driver’s seat. Suttles testified that Julius Reeves jumped out of the truck’s cab and asked the appellant what he had done, and that the appellant then told Julius and Suttles to go through Johnson’s pockets to “get his money.” (R. 704.) Suttles stated that Julius then pulled Johnson out of the truck and went through his pockets, giving the money he found in the pockets to the appellant. After Julius had gone through Johnson’s pockets, Suttles helped him put Johnson back in the truck’s cab. According to Suttles, Johnson was bleeding heavily and making “gagging” noises. (R. 721.)
Jason Powell and Emanuel Suttles testified that they heard the gunshot after Johnson’s truck pulled into Crockett’s Alley and that a short time later they saw the appellant, Julius Reeves, and Brenda Suttles run out of the alley and into the Reeveses’ house. The appellant was carrying a shotgun, they said. They followed the appellant, Julius Reeves, and Brenda Suttles into the Reeveses’ house and saw the appellant place the shotgun under a bed in his bedroom. The appellant told Julius and Brenda Suttles to change out of their bloodstained clothes and shoes, and he took the clothes and shoes and stuffed them under a dresser in his bedroom. According to Emanuel Suttles, as the appellant, Julius, and Brenda changed their clothes, they were “jumping and hollering” and celebrating about “all the stuff [they] got” from Johnson. (R. 842.) Jason Powell testified that he heard the appellant say, “I made the money.” (R. 786.)
After changing their clothes, Matthew Reeves Julius Reeves, and Brenda Suttles ran to Suttles’s house. On the way, the appellant stopped to talk to his girlfriend, telling her that if she should be questioned by the police, to tell them that he had been with her all day. At Suttles’s house, the appellant divided the money taken from Johnson-approximately $360-among himself, Julius Reeves, and Brenda Suttles. Testimony indicated that throughout the evening, the appellant continued to brag about having shot Johnson. Several witnesses who were present at Suttles’s house that evening testified that they saw the appellant dancing, “throwing up” gang signs, and pretending to pump a shotgun. Brenda Suttles testified that as the appellant danced, he would jerk his body around in a manner “mock[ing] the way that Willie Johnson had died.” (R. 713.) The appellant was also heard to say that the shooting would earn him a “teardrop,” a gang tatoo acquired for killing someone. (R. 720.)
Yolanda Blevins, who was present during the post-shooting “celebration” at Suttles’s house, testified that Matthew Reeves called her into the kitchen and told her that he had shot a man in a truck after catching a ride with him. Blevins noticed that there was what appeared to be dried blood on the appellant’s hands. LaTosha Rodgers, who was also present at Suttles’s house, testified that the appellant told her that he had “just shot somebody” in the alley. (R. 924.)
At around 2:00 a.m. on November 28, 1996 (approximately seven hours after the shooting), Selma police received a report of a suspicious vehicle parked in Crockett’s Alley. When police officers investigated, they found Johnson’s body slumped across the seat of his pickup truck. There was a pool of blood on the ground on the driver’s side of the truck. Several coins and a diamond ring were on the ground near the truck. On the floorboard of the truck, police found wadding from a shotgun shell. The pockets of Johnson’s pants had been turned inside out and were empty. Testimony at trial indicated that Johnson was a longtime employee of the Selma Housing Authority and that on the afternoon of November 27, 1996, he had cashed his paycheck, which had been in the amount of $500.
At the shooting scene on the morning of November 28, police also discovered a trail of blood leading from Johnson’s truck to the Reeveses’ house. Randy Tucker, a canine-patrol officer with the Selma Police Department, testified that his dog tracked the blood trail from the pool of blood next to Johnson’s truck, down Crockett’s Alley, through the yard at 2126 Selma Avenue (the residence next to the alley), and ultimately to the front steps of the Reeveses’ house at 2128 Selma Avenue.
Pat Grindle, the detective in charge of investigating Johnson’s murder, went to the Reeveses’ house after learning that the blood trail led there. Det. Grindle testified that he obtained the consent of the appellant’s mother, Marzetta Reeves, to search the house. In a bedroom shared by the appellant and Julius, Det. Grindle found bloodstained clothes and bloodstained shoes; under a bed in this bedroom, Det. Grindle found a shotgun. In searching the kitchen, Det. Grindle found a pair of bloodstained pants. After making these discoveries, Det. Grindle questioned Marzetta Reeves and several other persons who were in the house at that time. Det. Grindle stated that he learned that the bloodstained clothes and shoes belonged to Julius Reeves, Brenda Suttles, and Matthew Reeves. Det. Grindle then went to Suttles’s house in an attempt to locate the three. At Suttles’s house, Det. Grindle found the appellant lying on a couch in a front room. The appellant was placed under arrest, and the officers seized a balled-up bloodstained jacket he was using as a headrest on the couch. Det. Grindle later returned to the Reeveses’ residence, where he seized a 12 gauge shotgun shell from a garbage can in the bathroom.
An autopsy revealed that Johnson had died from a shotgun wound to his neck that severed the carotid artery, causing him to bleed to death over a period of several minutes. Bloodstain patterns in Johnson’s truck indicated that he was sitting upright in the driver’s seat, facing forward, when he was shot from behind, through the open rear window. The bloodstain patterns also indicated that the driver’s side door had been opened and closed shortly after Johnson was shot.
Testimony indicated that the Matthew Reeves’s fingerprints were found on the shotgun that Det. Grindle had seized from under the bed in the appellant’s bedroom. Brenda Suttles’s and Julius Reeves’s fingerprints were found on a fender of Johnson’s truck. Joseph Saloom, a firearms expert with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, testified that the shotgun shell seized from the bathroom at the Reeveses’ residence was of the type commonly fired from the shotgun seized from the appellant’s bedroom. Saloom stated that the shotgun-shell wadding found on the floorboard of Johnson’s truck was of the type commonly found in the kind of shotgun shell seized from the bathroom at the Reeveses’ residence.
Matthew Reeves Execution
Matthew Reeves, 43, was convicted of capital murder for murdering a driver who gave him a ride in 1996. Willie Johnson, the victim, died from a shotgun blast to the neck during the robbery. He picked up Reeves, 18 at the time, who was on the side of the road. Evidence showed he went to a party afterward and celebrated the killing with blood still on his hands.
He was pronounced dead at 9:35 p.m. local time. The Associated Press reported that he craned his neck to look a few times around the death chamber and grimaced and looked toward his left arm toward the intravenous line. “With his eyes closed and mouth slightly agape, Reeves’ abdomen moved repeatedly before he grew still,” AP reported.
A last-minute fight by his lawyers seeking to stop the execution involved his intellect, his rights under federal disability law and how the state planned to kill him. Reeves claimed he had intellectual disabilities that prevented him from understanding the form offering him the chance to choose nitrogen hypoxia — a method never used in the U.S. — over lethal injection, which the inmate’s lawyers called “torturous.
Reeves also claimed the state failed to help him understand the form. But the state argued he wasn’t so disabled that he couldn’t understand the choice. A poor reader and intellectually disabled, Reeves isn’t capable of making such a decision without assistance that should have been provided under the American With Disabilities Act, his lawyers argued. A prison worker who gave Reeves a form didn’t offer aid to help him understand, they said.
With Reeves contending he would have chosen nitrogen hypoxia over a “torturous” lethal injection had he comprehended the form, the defense filed suit asking a court to halt the lethal injection. U.S. District Judge R. Austin Huffaker Jr. blocked execution plans, ruling that Reeves had a good chance of winning the claim under the disabilities law.
A defense expert concluded Reeves had a first-grade reading level and the language competency of someone as young as 4, but the state disagreed that Reeves had a disability that would prevent him from understanding his options.
An Alabama inmate who was put to death by lethal injection last year, Willie B. Smith, unsuccessfully raised claims about being intellectually unable to make the choice for nitrogen hypoxia.