Federal death row inmate denied stay of execution

A man sentenced to die by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute was denied a stay of execution in federal court Wednesday, narrowing his remaining appeals and potentially setting the stage for his execution scheduled next month to proceed.

Wesley Ira Purkey was sentenced to death in a Missouri federal court 16 years ago for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 16-year-old Jennifer Long. He was accused of dismembering, burning and then dumping the teen’s body in a septic pond. Purkey was also convicted in a Kansas state court of killing an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio.

Purkey, who is from Kansas, is slated to be executed Dec. 13 and is among the first federal death row inmates for whom execution dates were set when U.S. Attorney General William Barr this summer announced the resumption of the federal death penalty. 

District Judge James P. Hanlon denied Purkey’s habeas petition filed after his petitions for post-conviction relief had been denied.

“Mr. Purkey cannot bring a successive § 2255 motion in the court of conviction, so he seeks relief from this Court in the form of a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition that raises eight claims. These claims, however, cannot be raised and adjudicated under § 2241 because they do not fall within any of the limited circumstances the Seventh Circuit has recognized when a federal prisoner may challenge a conviction and sentence by way of § 2241,” Hanlon wrote. “Moreover, there is not a structural problem with § 2255 when applied to Mr. Purkey’s case. For these reasons, Mr. Purkey’s § 2241 action must be dismissed and his petition for a writ of habeas corpus denied.”

Purkey raised arguments that the death penalty is unconstitutional under the Sixth and Eighth Amendment; that he suffers from severe mental illness; and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge a juror and by submitting an affidavit with false and misleading information, among other objections.

Hanlon found these arguments outside of the narrow scope for habeas relief permitted under 7th Circuit jurisprudence. “… Mr. Purkey does not advance any basis for extending those precedents to these claims,” the judge wrote from the Southern District Court bench in Terre Haute. “Accordingly, his petition is denied with prejudice. … Because the Court has resolved Mr. Purkey’s claims, his motion to stay his execution … is denied as moot.”

The case is Wesley Ira Purkey v. United States, 2:19-cv-00414.

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