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US executes 2nd federal inmate this week after 17-year pause

United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, Indiana. (U.S. Bureau of Prisons photo/Released)
July 16, 2020

On Thursday, U.S. federal officials executed Wesley Ira Purkey by lethal injection — the second in a week after a 17-year pause in federal executions.

Purkey, 68, was convicted in the 2003 rape and murder of 16-year-old Jennifer Long and the murder of 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales. The Indianapolis Star reported federal officials at the Terre Haute federal prison in Indiana pronounced Purkey dead at 8:19 a.m.

Purkey was the second federal inmate to receive a lethal injection this week, following the Tuesday execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, another inmate at the Terre Haute prison. Lee was the first federal prisoner to receive the death sentence since 2003 when the last federal execution occurred.

Purkey was originally slated for execution on Wednesday, but his execution and Lee’s were both delayed by last-minute court appeals to stop the executions. Purkey appealed his execution on grounds of a poor mental state, arguing he was not competent enough to receive his execution. He also argued that U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal violated his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan initially granted Purkey an injunction, noting he had been repeatedly sexually abused as a child and suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries including the first when he was 16. In her order, Chutkan also noted a history of mental health diagnosis, including schizophrenic reaction, schizoaffective disorder, and depression as a child, and progressive dementia, schizophrenia, complex-post traumatic stress disorder, and other severe mental illness at age 68.

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As with Lee’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court received the appeal and decided to lift the injunction in a 5-4 decision Thursday morning.

When asked if he would like to make a final statement, Purkey reportedly said “please.”

“I deeply regret the pain and suffering I’ve caused Jennifer’s family,” Purkey said of Long’s family. He added, “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”

Following the execution, Jennifer’s father William Long told reporters he had been waiting for Purkey’s execution for some time.

“We took care of today what we needed to take care of,” he said. “He needed to take his last breath because he took my daughter’s last breath. There is no closure. There never will be because I won’t get my daughter back.”

Two more federal inmates at the Terre Haute prison are scheduled to be executed in the coming weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would resume executions for those inmates sentenced to death.

Inmate Dustin Lee Honken is scheduled to be executed on Friday. According to a DOJ execution schedule, Honken was convicted of killing five people, including a mother and her 10-year-old and six-year-old daughters and two men who planned to testify against Honken.

Keith Dwayne Nelson, is scheduled for execution on August 28. He was convicted of kidnapping and raping a 10-year-old girl and strangling her to death with a wire.