TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Welsey Ira Purkey used his final moments to apologize to his victim’s family. Purkey was executed by lethal injection 16 hours after his scheduled death. Like the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee before him, a back-and-forth legal battle kept the family of Jennifer Long and media witnesses waiting hours for the execution to proceed.
Wesley Purkey was sentenced to death for the violent rape and murder of 16-year-old Jennifer Long, of Kansas City, Missouri. Purkey dismembered the girl’s body before burning it and dumping the remains in a septic pond.
I served as a media witness to Purkey’s execution. I was one of seven members of the press to document his final moments of life strapped to the gurney in the federal prison execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana. Purkey’s is the second of three executions in a week. I also witnessed the first federal execution in 17 years; the death of Daniel Lewis Lee.
The Department of Justice scheduled Purkey’s execution for Wednesday, July 15th at 4 p.m. Late Wednesday morning, media witnesses were informed the execution would be delayed to 7 p.m. Purkey’s death would not be recorded until the following morning at 8:19 a.m. after another night of delays and legal battles that would reach the Supreme Court.
Unlike the lead up to Lee’s execution, media witnesses would not be released as the legal battle played out. Instead, we would sit at our designated table in the prison Media Center until 2:45 a.m. That’s when we were told to board vans to the execution chamber. We would then sit in those vans outside the chamber for four hours.
— Heather Good (@HeatherGoodWTHI) July 16, 2020
From the back of the van, I could see another van parked closer to the chamber. The family of Jennifer Long was inside. We would all wait and watch the sun come up from the back of the federal prison complex.
Shortly before 8 in the morning, everyone was escorted out of the white vans and into the execution chamber. Media witnesses were the last inside at 7:53 a.m.
There are two windows between the media room and the green-tiled chamber where federal death row inmates are strapped to the gurney. The curtain raised at 7:55 a.m. and the execution was cleared to proceed a minute later after the marshal in the room notified the gallery there were no legal impediments to the execution.
Purkey was then given the opportunity to speak.
“I deeply regret the pain and suffering I’ve caused Jennifer’s family. I’m deeply, deeply sorry.”
He also apologized to his daughter and family before saying, “This sanitized murder really does serve no purpose whatsoever.”
Purkey was strapped to the gurney. A blue-green sheet covered his body up to his neck. Both arms were outstretched with intravenous lines in each hand. The line in his left hand entered his skin surrounded by a tattoo. The pink of his cheeks would fade away over the following minutes.
Purkey rested his head and looked at the ceiling. He blinked several times. Eventually, his mouth would open slightly. I could see the top row of his teeth for the rest of the execution.
His breathing appeared heavy for a time, but would eventually weaken and slow. By 8:06 a.m., he no longer seemed to be moving. I waited for the announcement death had occurred.
Wesley Purkey was pronounced dead at 8:19am. The execution started at 7:56am. Some of his last words: “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I’ve caused Jennifer’s family. I’m deeply, deeply sorry.” @WTHITV
— Heather Good (@HeatherGoodWTHI) July 16, 2020
Purkey’s spiritual advisor stood in the corner of the execution chamber. The man was in full personal protective equipment including a face mask, face shield, gloves and gown. He held his hands together in front of him with his fingers toward the ceiling.
Wesley Ira Purkey died at 8:19 a.m. The curtain to the media gallery closed and we were escorted to the vans and back to the Media Center. That’s where we waited for Jennifer Long’s family who had accepted an offer to make a statement to the press.
The teen’s father, step-mother and friend stood at a podium wearing pale blue t-shirts with Jennifer’s face printed on the front.
Father, William Long first addressed the press saying the execution was “a long time coming.”
He described Jennifer as a beautiful girl “who would do anything for anybody.”
The family also talked about the legal delays in the years leading up to the execution, as well as the grueling wait outside the chamber.
Step-mother, Olivia Long said, “All of these appeals, some of them he put through several times. And, then we sat in a van for four hours this morning while he did a bunch more appeals, some of them he had already done. We just shouldn’t have had to wait this long.”
I asked the family what they thought of Purkey’s apology.
William said, “I didn’t give a shit.”
“It didn’t mean much to us,” Olivia added.
“I hope he rots in hell,” William said, “I really do.”
The family also noted Purkey’s mental state. His attorneys had argued Purkey was suffering from dementia and could not understand why he was being executed. Olivia Long pointed out that Purkey remembered Jennifer in his apology.
“So apparently he wasn’t mentally diminished. That was just another thing he was trying to throw out there to get out of it.”
William long said about the execution, “Long wait, long wait. Something you think about every day.”