Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of a gruesome 1998 kidnapping and killing, was scheduled for execution Wednesday night at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute. (WFIU/WTIU News)
A judge on Wednesday halted the execution of a man, said to be suffering from dementia, who was set to die by lethal injection in the federal government’s second execution this week after a 17-year hiatus.
Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of a gruesome 1998 kidnapping and killing, was scheduled for execution Wednesday night at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death Tuesday after his eleventh-hour legal bids failed.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., imposed two injunctions prohibiting the federal Bureau of Prisons from moving forward with Purkey’s execution. The Justice Department immediately appealed in both cases.
The legal wrangling suggested a volley of litigation would continue into the evening, similar to what happened before the government executed Lee following a ruling from the Supreme Court. One of the injunctions imposed Wednesday would halt not only Purkey’s execution, but another that has been scheduled for Friday and one in August.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ended a separate stay from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, but the others remained in place. Purkey’s execution had been scheduled for around 7 p.m., but it was delayed as the legal issues played out. His lawyers were also accusing the government of suppressing information it had on brain abnormalities found in Purkey that are consistent with dementia.
Lee, convicted of killing an Arkansas family in a 1990s plot to build a whites-only nation, was the first of four condemned men scheduled to die in July and August despite the coronavirus pandemic raging inside and outside prisons.
Purkey, 68, of Lansing, Kansas, would be the second.
“This competency issue is a very strong issue on paper,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The Supreme Court has halted executions on this issue in the past. At a minimum, the question of whether Purkey dies is going to go down to the last minute.”
Judge Chutkan didn’t rule on whether Purkey was competent but said the court needed to evaluate the claim. She said there was no question he’d suffer “irreparable harm” if he was put to death before his claim could be evaluated.
Lee’s execution had gone forward a day late. It was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but the Supreme Court only gave the green light in a 5-4 ruling early Tuesday.