2nd federal execution remains in limbo

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In this 1998 photo, Wesley Ira Purkey, center, is escorted by police officers in Kansas City, Kan., 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, Ind. (Jim Barcus/The Kansas City Star via AP)

UPDATE:  The Supreme Court early Thursday cleared the way for a second federal execution in as many days.


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — The second federal execution scheduled to take place this week following a nearly two decade hiatus remained in limbo as of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday Night.

Wesley Ira Purkey was convicted in November of 2003 for the 1998 killing of 16-year-old Jennifer Long after picking her up in Kansas City, Missouri. He was also convicted of using a claw hammer to kill an 80-year-old Kansas woman, Mary Ruth Bales, who suffered from polio.

Lawyers for the 68-year-old said he has dementia and wouldn’t understand why he is being executed.

Purkey was scheduled to be executed at 4 p.m. Wednesday, but hours before the sentence was to be carried out a U.S. district judge placed an injunction on the proceedings, calling for the courts to evaluate claims he is mentally unfit.

There is also an appeal based on the method of execution as the Justice Department moved to using only pentobarbital. The drug was used Tuesday as Daniel Lewis Lee became the first federal inmate to be executed in 17 years.

The Department of Justice is fighting to proceed with the execution.

The execution time was delayed until 7 p.m. as the Bureau of Prisons awaited a final ruling from the Supreme Court; however, that time came and went without an answer.

Media witnesses, including WTWO/WAWV’s Dana Winklepleck, went through security screening and were headed to the execution building around 6 p.m. when their vans were stopped and returned to the Media Center.

Last minute appeals aren’t uncommon in executions. Lee’s execution was delayed by almost 16 hours due to appeals.

There is even a special phone in the execution chamber that a U.S. Marshal uses to make the final call to make sure there are no stays or appeals that would prevent the execution from proceeding, Winklepleck explained.

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge repeatedly denied a request from Dustin Lee Honkin, an Iowa drug kingpin scheduled to be executed on Friday, to delay his execution. The judge said he would not delay Honken’s execution due to the coronavirus pandemic and said the Bureau of Prisons was in the best position to weigh the health risks.

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