The federal government on Thursday morning executed its second convict this week after a 17-year hiatus, putting to death a Kansas man who confessed to killing a teenager in 1998.
Wesley Ira Purkey was pronounced dead at 8:19 a.m. by lethal injection at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
A third execution is scheduled for Friday. If that goes through, the government will have killed as many federal inmates as it did between 1988 and 2019. Only once before has the government killed three people in a week, nearly 90 years ago.
Purkey was sentenced to death in January 2004 after he was convicted of kidnapping and killing of 16-year-old Jennifer Long. He was also convicted of bludgeoning 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales with a hammer.
“I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer’s family. I am deeply sorry. I deeply regret the pain I caused to my daughter, who I love so very much,” Purkey said just before his death.
His final words were: “This sanitized murder does not serve no purpose whatsoever.”
Purkey’s legal team argued that he was mentally unfit for execution because he suffered from dementia and schizophrenia. A Supreme Court decision early Thursday morning green-lighted the execution, denying a last-minute appeal.
In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority lifted an injunction imposed by a lower court that had blocked Purkey’s execution.
The court’s four Democrat-appointed justices dissented.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that proceeding with Purkey’s execution despite questions about his mental competency “casts a shroud of constitutional doubt over the most irrevocable injuries.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Purkey’s death was “just punishment.”
“After many years of litigation following the death of his victims, in which he lived and was afforded every due process of law under our Constitution, Purkey has finally faced justice,” she said in a statement.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction Wednesday blocking the Bureau of Prisons from executing Purkey. While she noted his dementia and mental illness, she did not decide whether he was competent to be put to death.
Purkey’s attorneys filed appeals up to hours before he was about to be executed, until the Supreme Court intervened.
An attorney for Purkey said in a statement late Wednesday the government was in possession of scientific evidence that confirms “significant structural abnormalities” in his brain that were consistent with “cognitive impairment.”
Purkey is the second federal inmate executed this week. His case played out almost exactly the same as that of Daniel Lewis Lee, who was executed Tuesday morning.Both men had won an injunction from the lower courts, only to have a last-minute ruling from the Supreme Court allow their execution.
Lee was the first federal inmate to be executed since 2003.
On Wednesday, a federal judge denied a request by Dustin Honken to halt his execution, scheduled for Friday. Honken, a drug kingpin, was convicted of killing five people in Iowa in 1993.
It is exceedingly rare for the government to execute more than one inmate in a week, but it has happened.
In July 1938, murderer bank robber Anthony Chebatoris and kidnapper Henry Seadlund were put to death six days apart.
On Aug. 8, 1942, six men were executed by the federal government for espionage and attempted sabotage for Nazi Germany. They were killed by electrocution.
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