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Wesley Ira Purkey to be executed on July 15 despite mental illness, he doesn't know why he's going to die

Purkey, who raped Jennifer Long, 16, in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1998 and dismembered her using a chainsaw, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease
UPDATED JUL 15, 2020
(Kansas Department of Corrections)
(Kansas Department of Corrections)

TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA: Wesley Ira Purkey, a 68-year-old on death row for rape and murders in 1998, is set to be executed on Wednesday, July 15, despite debilitating mental health conditions that inhibit him from understanding the reason for his government-ordered imminent death, his attorneys say. Purkey's attorney, Rebecca Woodman, said a motion for a preliminary injunction in his case is still currently pending at the US District Court of the District of Columbia. 

Three leading national mental health organizations, last week, had also called on Attorney General Bill Barr in a letter to put a halt to Purkey's execution, calling it "cruel and unusual" because of his mental health issues. Purkey suffers from Alzheimer's and dementia so severe that he does not understand the reason for his execution and believes that he is being put to death in retaliation of his complaints about the prison conditions.

“Wes Purkey is a severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease,” said Woodman in a statement to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). “He has long accepted responsibility for the crime that put him on death row, but as his dementia has progressed, he no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him. He believes his execution is part of a largescale conspiracy against him by the federal government in retaliation for his frequent challenges to prison conditions and he believes his own lawyers are working against him within this conspiracy."

The Supreme Court explicitly states that the Constitution forbids executing a prisoner who lacks a “rational understanding of the basis for his execution.” Purkey's lawyers have stated that their filing of a preliminary injunction in the case demonstrated that the 68-year-old's condition met this standard and that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment. "The Eighth Amendment prohibits executing someone who, like Wes, lacks a rational understanding of the basis for his execution, and the court must not allow the execution to go forward unless and until it can confirm that Mr Purkey has this understanding,” Woodman, who represents Purkey with Miller & Chevalier of Washington DC as co-counsel, added.
Purkey's legal team also argued that their client is entitled to an assessment of his competency in accordance with due process, however, the Trump administration has denied his attorneys access to medical records in an effort to rush with the execution. The preliminary injunction filed by the team also noted that "the government is seeking to execute an incompetent prisoner in the midst of a pandemic, without any comprehensive safety plan or protocol in place to protect countless numbers of people coming to USP Terre Haute from all parts of the country from the spread of coronavirus infection, thus putting everyone in danger, including prison staff and victims’ families." Purkey's lawyers have always sought expedited discovery of the government-controlled medical records concerning their client and a swift hearing to address the 68-year-old's competency to be executed. The lawyers also stated that the administration barely gave them a month's notice of Purkey's execution date despite the government's attorneys being aware of the issues surrounding his competency. 

Purkey, from Lansing, Kansas, was given the death sentence for raping and killing a 16-year-old girl, Jennifer Long, in Kansas City, Missouri, 1998. He reportedly raped Long then killed her by stabbing her repeatedly and eventually used a chainsaw to cut her body into pieces. Purkey later burned her remains in a fireplace and threw her ashes 200 miles away in a septic pond in Clearwater, southwest of Wichita. Nearly nine months after Long's killing, he attacked an 80-year-old woman, Mary Ruth Bales, from Kansas City with a hammer and killed her. Purkey, at the time, pleaded guilty to the elderly woman's murder and was given a life sentence for the crime. However, years later, in 2003, a federal jury in the Western District of Missouri found Purkey guilty of kidnapping and killing Long. Prosecutors then sought the death penalty for him. Purkey, since then, has continued to remain at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.