In brief: February 2022

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In Alabama, Matthew Reeves was executed January 27, despite having an intellectual disability. Reeves was killed by lethal injection because he failed to choose a new method, nitrogen hypoxia, within the 30-day period required by corrections officials. Reeves’ lawyers had argued that his intellectual disabilities prevented him from understanding the form giving him the option of choosing nitrogen hypoxia over lethal injection. Reeves was sentenced to death for the killing of Willie Johnson, who had given Reeves and several other men who were hitchhiking a ride in 1996. Two jurors had voted against death, but Alabama is the only state that doesn’t require a unanimous verdict in a death sentence.

On the same day Reeves was executed, Donald Grant was killed by the state of Oklahoma, less than 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay. He was killed by a three-drug lethal injection. Grant was sentenced to death for killing two hotel workers during a robbery in 2001. Although Oklahoma has a history of botched executions, initial reports indicate that the difficulties seen in past executions were not apparent when they killed Donald Grant.

In Tennessee, Pervis Payne, who was sentenced to death in 1988 for the murder of 28-year-old Charisse Christopher and her two-year-old daughter, Lacie, was resentenced to two concurrent life sentences late last month. A county criminal court judge had vacated Payne’s sentence after the Shelby County district attorney withdrew her request for a hearing on the issue of intellectual disability. The ruling means that Payne, now 54, will be eligible for parole in five years.

In Texas, Clinton Young was released from death row, where he had been imprisoned for nearly 20 years in solitary confinement. He was released after it was discovered that a prosecutor in his case was also working as a clerk for the judge presiding over his trial, Your Basin reports. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that Young was denied a fair trial and an impartial judge. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to retry Young, who has maintained his innocence since his arrest and conviction.

In Wyoming, Dale Wayne Eaton will not face a death penalty charge for the 1988 rape and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004. However, a federal judge ordered him off death row after finding he didn’t receive adequate legal representation during the penalty phase of his trial. According to the paper, prosecutors agreed to withdraw the death penalty charges after a mental evaluation of Eaton found he was not competent to undergo a capital trial due to cognitive disabilities. He will be sentenced to life instead. Wyoming has no one imprisoned on its death row. Its last execution was in 1992.

In Utah, two lawmakers, Rep. Lowry Snow (R-St. George) and Sen. Dan McCay (R-Riverton), have introduced a bill to repeal the state’s death penalty. HB 147 would prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty in aggravated murder cases after May 4, although it could be charged if prosecutors file their intent before the May deadline. KSL.com reports that while similar death penalty repeal bills have failed in the past, a recent poll shows that support for the death penalty in Utah has decreased to 51% — an almost 30% decline from 2010.

Thirty years after reinstituting its death penalty, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape announced late last month that the parliament had repealed it.“For us as a Christian nation, in my view – the notion of ‘thou shall not kill’ still prevails,” Marape said in making the announcement. Papua New Guinea has 40 prisoners on death row. Its last execution was in 1954.

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