Sun | Aug 9, 2020

US judge halts execution amid claims inmate is mentally unfit

Published:Wednesday | July 15, 2020 | 9:57 AM
In this 1998 photo, Wesley Ira Purkey (centre) is escorted by police officers in Kansas City, Kansas, after he was arrested in connection with the death of 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales. Purkey was also convicted of kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old girl and is scheduled to be executed on July 15, 2020, in Terre Haute, Indiana (Jim Barcus/The Kansas City Star via AP)

TERRE HAUTE, Indiana (AP) — A judge on Wednesday halted the execution of a man said to be suffering from dementia, who had been set to die by lethal injection in the federal government’s second execution after a 17-year hiatus.

Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of a gruesome 1998 kidnapping and killing, was scheduled for execution Wednesday at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death Tuesday after his eleventh-hour legal bids failed.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., imposed two injunctions on Wednesday prohibiting the federal Bureau of Prisons from moving forward with Purkey’s execution.

The Justice Department immediately appealed in both cases.

A separate temporary stay was already in place from the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The early morning legal wrangling suggests a volley of litigation will continue in the hours ahead of Purkey’s scheduled execution, similar to what happened when the government executed Lee, following a ruling from the Supreme Court.

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, but his lawyers were still expected to press for a ruling from the Supreme Court on his competency.

“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.”

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