Lawyers for Wesley Purkey, 67, said his scheduled Dec. 13 execution would therefore violate his constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, which bars the death penalty for someone who is incompetent.
Purkey believes the government wants to execute him in retaliation for making complaints about prison conditions, his lawyers said.
“Wes Purkey is a severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease,” Rebecca Woodman, one of his attorneys, said in a statement. “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.”
Purkey was sentenced to death in January 2004 after he was convicted in federal court of kidnapping 16-year-old Jennifer Long, whom he raped and killed in 1998. He was also convicted in Wyandotte County District Court of murdering 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales, a Kansas City, Kansas, woman who was killed with a hammer.
Purkey’s execution was set to be among the first carried out by the federal government in 16 years. The death sentences have been temporarily halted by a judge as a lawsuit continues over how the government intends to carry them out. The Trump administration has appealed the judge’s ruling.
In a lawsuit this week, Purkey’s attorneys challenged his competency to be executed under the Eighth Amendment. They are seeking a hearing to address the issue as soon as possible.
Among his life’s trauma cited in the lawsuit, Purkey was molested by a priest, his alcoholic mother and a friend of his brother. Purkey suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and psychosis, his attorneys said. Records document his multiple suicide attempts, psychiatric symptoms and his longstanding mental illness.
Purkey grew up in the prison environment, where his “breaks with reality” have been repeatedly documented, his attorneys said. He has believed that correctional officers and inmates have tried to poison him, that prosecutors and judges have retaliated against him for his legal complaints and his own attorneys — who are trying to save his life — are “part of the conspiracies against him.”
“He lacks the ability to know who is trying to hurt and who is trying to help him,” a forensic psychiatrist determined.
Purkey, the practitioner said, believes he is going to be executed “in retaliation for his legal work, to prevent him from being a hassle for the government.” He has had hallucinations of prison staffers confirming that distorted perception, according to the lawsuit.
His attorneys say they have witnessed his accelerating physical and mental decline. He slurs his words and struggles to remember the names of the most important people in his life, including relatives and the lawyers who have represented him for five years, according to the lawsuit.
Purkey remains at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
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