U.S. Executes Wesley Purkey, Who Calls It a 'Sanitized Murder' In Last Words

The federal government carried out its second execution this week, putting to death a man whose attorneys argued he was not mentally competent.

Wesley Ira Purkey was put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Thursday morning, hours after the Supreme Court ruled it could proceed in the middle of the night, as it had in the case of Daniel Lewis Lee earlier this week.

Purkey was convicted in 2003 for raping and killing 16-year-old Jennifer Long before dismembering, burning and dumping her body in a septic pond.

His lawyers had made last-ditch efforts to halt his execution, contending that he suffered from Alzheimer's disease and dementia and did not understand the reason for this execution.

But in his last statement, Purkey apologized to his victim's family. "I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer's family. I am deeply sorry," he said, according to The Associated Press.

He also expressed remorse for the pain his actions caused his own daughter. "I deeply regret the pain I caused to my daughter, who I love so very much," he said.

Purkey's last words before he received a lethal injection were: "This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever. Thank you." He was pronounced dead at 8:19 a.m. EDT.

Long's father, William Long, who witnessed the execution along with her stepmother, told the AP that he hoped Purkey "rots in hell."

"We took care of today what we needed to take care of," he said. "It has been a long time coming. He needed to take his last breath; he took my daughter's last breath."

Although his final words expressed contrition for Long's murder, Purkey's lawyers said his mental health had deteriorated to the point that he didn't understand the reason for his execution.

They filed a motion to halt his execution, arguing that the Constitution prohibits executing someone who lacks a "rational understanding of the basis for his execution."

"Wes Purkey is a 68-year-old, severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease and dementia," Rebecca Woodman, one of Purkey's attorneys, previously said in a statement to Newsweek.

"Though he has long accepted responsibility for his crime, he no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him."

Purkey believed he is being put to death as retaliation for his complaints about prison conditions, Woodman said. "He believes his execution is part of a large-scale 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," she said.

Purkey's lawyers also said in their filing that he had endured "atrocious trauma, including repeated sexual abuse and molestation by those charged with caring for him as a child."

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan imposed two injunctions early Wednesday, barring the Bureau of Prisons from going forward with Purkey's execution.

But it was carried out after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 for it to proceed, with the four liberal justices dissenting.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that although the government and victim's family members have "a legitimate interest in punishing the guilty," proceeding with Purkey's execution "despite the grave questions and factual findings regarding his mental competency, casts a shroud of constitutional doubt over the most irrevocable of injuries."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: "A modern system of criminal justice must be reasonably accurate, fair, humane, and timely.

"Our recent experience with the Federal Government's resumption of executions adds to the mounting body of evidence that the death penalty cannot be reconciled with those values. I remain convinced of the importance of reconsidering the constitutionality of the death penalty itself."

But in a statement following his execution, Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said a "just punishment" had been carried out.

"After many years of litigation following the death of his victims, in which he lived and was afforded every due process of law under our Constitution, Purkey has finally faced justice," Kupec said.

"The death penalty has been upheld by the federal courts, supported on a bipartisan basis by Congress, and approved by Attorneys General under both Democratic and Republican administrations as the appropriate sentence for the most egregious federal crimes. Today that just punishment has been carried out."

The Supreme Court also lifted a hold placed on other upcoming federal executions.

Dustin Honken is to be put to death at the Terre Haute prison on Friday, while Keith Nelson's execution is scheduled for August 28.

Terre Haute
A fenced protest area is empty after no one showed up for expected protests at the Federal Correctional Complex on July 13, 2020 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Scott Olson/Getty Images