Federal government executes Wesley Ira Purkey, 2nd man put to death this week after 17-year hiatus

·4 min read

For the second time this week, a man was executed by lethal injection inside a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Wesley Ira Purkey, 68, was pronounced dead at 8:19 a.m. Thursday. He was convicted Nov. 3, 2003, of the rape and murder of Jennifer Long, 16, in Missouri. Officials said he then dismembered, burned and dumped the girl’s body in a septic pond.

“I deeply regret the pain and suffering I’ve caused Jennifer’s family. ... This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever,” Purkey said in his last words.

William Long, Jennifer's father, said what happened Thursday morning was a long time coming.

"We took care of today what we needed to take care," 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."

Before his conviction for Long's death, Purkey pleaded guilty to using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane. For that, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Purkey's execution came two days and 12 minutes after Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death. Lee's death marked the first federal execution in 17 years.

'You're killing an innocent man': Daniel Lewis Lee executed

Both executions were delayed after a federal judge granted injunctions within hours of the scheduled deaths. The Department of Justice prevailed in both cases, which reached the Supreme Court.

The execution

Media witnesses were allowed into the brick building where executions are performed at 7:53 a.m. Two minutes later, the shades were lifted, allowing them a view of Purkey, strapped to the execution table. IVs that carried the lethal injection drugs were already inserted into each of his hands. Dark purple veins stood out on his left hand.

After a legal battle that involved Purkey's mental state, he appeared to be lucid and aware of where he was and what was happening.

When asked if he wanted to make a final statement, Purkey said, "Please." He said he was "deeply, deeply sorry" for the pain he caused the victim's family and his own daughter.

Reopening federal death chamber: Victim opposition, pandemic threaten first execution in 17 years

The United States resumed executions at the penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.
The United States resumed executions at the penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

When the lethal pentobarbital was pumped into his body, Purkey began to blink rapidly. His chest continued to rise and fall deeply. After several minutes, his breaths became shorter. His mouth opened slightly.

A chaplain wearing full personal protective equipment against the coronavirus stood in the execution chamber with his hands before his face in prayer.

A witness saw Purkey's chest move for the last time at 8:02 a.m.

Seventeen minutes later came the announcement: "Death occurred at 8:19 a.m. This concludes the execution of inmate Purkey."

The curtains closed.

Courts delay Purkey's death

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan granted a preliminary injunction early Wednesday to delay Purkey's death, which was initially scheduled for 4 p.m. the same day. His attorneys said Purkey suffers from dementia and schizophrenia. She later granted another injunction.

A 5-4 Supreme Court decision lifted those injunctions early Thursday.

More: Supreme Court clears the way for the first federal executions in 17 years

The 14-page order from Chutkan said Purkey experienced repeated sexual abuse and molestation by those who cared for him as a child. He suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries, the first in 1968 when he was 16.

"At 14, he was first examined for possible brain damage, and at 18, he was diagnosed with schizophrenic reaction, schizoaffective disorder and depression superimposed upon a preexisting antisocial personality," court documents said. "At 68, he suffers from progressive dementia, schizophrenia, complex post-traumatic stress disorder and severe mental illness."

The order said Purkey sought to stop the execution on grounds that he was not competent to be executed and that Attorney General William Barr and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal did not afford him due process in connection with his Eighth Amendment claim. The amendment prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishment.

More executions scheduled

Two more inmates are scheduled to be executed at the Terre Haute prison, including one this week.

Dustin Lee Honken, who shot and killed five people – including two men who planned to testify against him – is scheduled to be executed Friday.

Keith Dwayne Nelson, who kidnapped, raped and strangled a 10-year-old girl, is scheduled to be executed Aug. 28.

Contributing: Tim Evans and Holly Hays

Contact IndyStar reporter Vic Ryckaert at 317-444-2701 or vic.ryckaert@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @VicRyc.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Wesley Purkey executed in Indiana, 2nd federal execution this week

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