Wesley Purkey

Wesley Purkey (Photo from Death Penalty Information Center) 

Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted in 2003 in Missouri in connection with the kidnapping, rape, murder and dismemberment of a 16-year-old girl, is scheduled to die by lethal injection today at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute.

Daniel Lewis Lee, convicted in a multiple murder, was executed there early Tuesday, becoming the first federal inmate executed in 17 years. USP-Terre Haute is home to both the federal prison system’s death row and its last working execution chamber.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has said it intends to stick to the same protocol today, with Purkey scheduled to be executed at 4 p.m. 

It is not certain Purkey’s execution will go forward as scheduled, as his lawyers are seeking a renewed injunction to halt it.

They say their client, age 68, has advancing Alzheimer’s disease and badly deteriorating cognitive function and that killing him now would violate Eighth Amendment protections from cruel and unusual punishment. They say Purkey’s dementia has progressed to the point that he does not understand why the government plans to execute him, believing it to be in retaliation for his complaints about prison conditions.

The inmate’s attorneys also contend the attorney general and Bureau of Prisons have deprived Purkey of due process, alleging they have “stonewalled” Purkey’s access to evidence that would support his claim.

Rebecca Woodman, one of Purkey’s attorneys, in a news release said, “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.”

The Justice Department does not agree. It contends the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday morning to allow the first four scheduled executions to proceed covers Purkey’s argument. 

The high court, it said, had ruled “plaintiffs have not established that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment claim.”

In its motion before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the government “respectfully requests that this court vacate its briefing order and dismiss this appeal as moot.”

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