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News 10's Heather Good describes the hours...and then the moments leading to Wesley Purkey's execution

The execution of Wesley Purkey was originally set for Wednesday, but it wouldn't happen until early Thursday morning. News 10's Heather Good was among several media witnesses who sat and waited to see his execution through.

Posted: Jul 16, 2020 5:18 PM
Updated: Jul 16, 2020 6:03 PM

VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - The execution of Wesley Purkey was originally set for Wednesday, but it wouldn't happen until early Thursday morning.

News 10's Heather Good was among several media witnesses who sat and waited to see his execution through.

FULL STATEMENT FROM WESLEY PURKEY'S ATTORNEY 

“Any doubts remaining about this Administration’s disregard for the rule of law, for the rights of its citizens, and for basic human decency have been laid to rest this week. On Tuesday, it illegally executed a man without a valid warrant after leaving him strapped to the execution gurney for over four hours. Now, the administration has illegally executed Wesley Ira Purkey, a 68-year-old man so impaired by Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and brain damage that he believed he was being killed in a conspiracy of retaliation for complaining about prison conditions. At the time of his death, Wes’s dementia had progressed to the point that he could not remember the names of loved ones, and even believed his own lawyers were part of the vast government conspiracy against him. Wes had no rational understanding that the government planned to kill him for a crime he committed years ago, even though, before dementia exacerbated his cognitive decline, he had expressed profound remorse for his crime.

“The law has long been clear that executing a person whose mental illness prevents him from understanding the reason for his punishment is ‘abhorrent,’ and violates the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. From the time the government first set an execution date for Mr. Purkey last summer, his lawyers have been asking the courts to hold a hearing on his incompetency, and to order the government to turn over extensive medical records supporting that determination.

“On Wednesday morning, the very day Wes was scheduled to die, a district judge in Washington, D.C. issued an injunction, finding that Mr. Purkey had provided substantial evidence of his incompetence supported by extensive expert reports and declarations, and that the government, on the other hand, “provided no independent evidence of competence.”

“Later that day, Mr. Purkey’s lawyers discovered that even as it raced to execute him, the government had been withholding from them scientific evidence documenting his advancing dementia. The injunction entered by the district court was upheld by the appellate court. And yet, in the early hours of Thursday, the district court’s injunction was overturned by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, with no explanation of the majority’s rationale.

“Mr. Purkey’s lawyers then sought habeas relief and a stay of execution in the Southern District of Indiana. On Thursday morning, that court denied the stay. It castigated Mr. Purkey’s lawyers for not filing his competency suit there in the first place, disregarded the substantial evidence of incompetency that his lawyers produced even in the face of the government’s stonewalling, and refused to consider the merits of Mr. Purkey’s incompetency claim.

“Meanwhile, at 11:59 p.m. on July 15, the execution warrant for Mr. Purkey expired. Under federal law, this should have precluded any execution without sufficient notice of a new date and time for the execution. Reporters in Terre Haute tweeted that the government was, nevertheless, moving forward with its plans to execute Mr. Purkey.

“Mr. Purkey appealed to the Seventh Circuit. But at 8:19 a.m. – with the appeal pending, and again without sufficient notice – the government executed Wesley Ira Purkey.

“Wes Purkey’s execution should shock the conscience of anyone who cares about justice and the rule of law. The government used every weapon in its arsenal to prevent any court from deciding the merits of his incompetency claim, even as evidence in its own possession showed Mr. Purkey’s mental capacity was profoundly impaired. And by barreling ahead to execute during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government recklessly placed hundreds of people at serious and unnecessary risk.

“We should expect more of our federal government than the rushed execution of a damaged and delusional old man. As the district court in Washington, D.C. quoted in granting the short-lived injunction yesterday, ‘the public interest has never been and could never be served by rushing to judgment at the expense of a condemned inmate’s constitutional rights.’ What happened today is truly abhorrent.”

-Rebecca Woodman, attorney for Wesley Ira Purkey
-July 16, 2020

For Heather, the story of Purkey's execution started just before 5:00 Wednesday afternoon. That's when she made her way to the federal prison in Terre Haute to check in as a media witness.

The execution, originally set for 4 pm was pushed back to 7 pm.

"I had hoped that things would move along quicker than Monday. I thought that because they had pushed back the execution time, that perhaps all of the legal hurdles would've been dealt with, and when we got there, we would be able to proceed," Heather said.

LINK | WAITING TO DIE: DANIEL LEWIS LEE EXECUTION

Members of the media would continue to wait for seven hours.

"The BOP officials in the room seemed to think that this really could happen at any time, so we were never released," Heather said.

The back-and-forth between Purkey's legal team and the court would go on until 2:30 Thursday morning.

The media and the victim's family were loaded into vans and taken to the execution chambers, leaving them all to sit and wait again, until 7:53 am.

Heather explains what happened next.

"By 7:55 that curtain had been raised. I also noticed at that time that they were taking a face mask off of Wesley Purkey, which I thought was interesting because I did not notice Daniel Lee at any point wearing a face mask.

I was kind of taken aback. His cheeks seemed kind of rosy the first time I saw him. And then obviously the execution took place and he eventually died. You saw all the color leave his face."

Just before fading away on the gurney, Heather says it was a change from Daniel Lee's execution. While Lee used his final words to maintain his innocence, Purkey spent his on apologies to his daughter, her family, and the victims.

LINK | US EXECUTES 2ND MAN IN A WEEK; LAWYERS SAID HE HAD DEMENTIA

Purkey's last words to the victims' family: “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer’s family. I am deeply, deeply sorry.”

Purkey's last words for his adult daughter: “I deeply regret the pain I caused to my daughter, who I love so very much."

Purkey's final words: "This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever."

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