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US carries out second execution in a week, killing man lawyers say had dementia

The United States on Thursday carried out its second federal execution this week, killing by lethal injection a Kansas man whose lawyers contended he had dementia and was unfit to be executed.

Wesley Purkey was put to death at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

He spoke out against capital punishment from the execution platform where he received the lethal injection, and apologized for the pain caused by his crimes to victims and his own family.

Purkey was convicted of kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old girl, Jennifer Long, before dismembering, burning and dumping her body in a septic pond.

He also was convicted in a state court in Kansas after using a claw hammer to kill an 80-year-old woman who had polio.

Purkey was strapped to a gurney inside the execution chamber. A prison official removed a mask from Purkey’s face and asked him if he wanted to make a final statement.

He leaned his head up slightly from the gurney and said: “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer’s family. I am deeply sorry.“

He also expressed remorse for his own adult daughter’s suffering his actions caused. “I deeply regret the pain I caused to my daughter, who I love so very much,” he said. His last words were: “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever. Thank you.”

He died at 8.19am US east coast time on Thursday. His spiritual adviser was in the room, wearing a face mask and a surgical mask and appeared to be praying, his gloved hands held together at the palms.

The US supreme court cleared the way for the execution to take place just hours before, ruling in a 5-4 decision. The four liberal justices dissented, like they did for the first case earlier this week.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that “proceeding with Purkey’s execution now, despite the grave questions and factual findings regarding his mental competency, casts a shroud of constitutional doubt over the most irrevocable of injuries.” She was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

It was the federal government’s second execution after a 17-year hiatus. Another man, Daniel Lewis Lee, was put to death Tuesday after his eleventh hour legal bids failed.

Both executions were delayed into the day after they were scheduled as legal wrangling continued late into the night and into the next morning.

The justice department has been questioned for holding the executions in the middle of the worsening coronavirus pandemic, prompting lawsuits over fears those who would travel to the prison could become infected.

The decision to resume executions after nearly two decades was criticized as a dangerously political move in an election year, forcing an issue that is not high on the list of American priorities considering the 11% unemployment rate and the pandemic.