Supreme Court clears way for second federal execution this week

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for a second federal execution in as many days. The high court by a 5-4 vote early Thursday lifted two court orders keeping the execution of Wesley Ira Purkey on hold.

Purkey was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 16-year-old girl before dismembering, burning, and then dumping the teen’s body in a septic pond. He was also convicted in a state court in Kansas after using a claw hammer to kill an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio.

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Purkey’s lawyers had contended that he had dementia and was unfit to be executed. They also said that if Purkey’s execution did not take place Wednesday, the government would need to set a new date.

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In this 1998 photo, Wesley Ira Purkey, center, is escorted by police officers in Kansas City, Kan., after he was arrested in connection with the death of 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales. Purkey was also convicted of kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old girl and is scheduled to be executed on July 15, 2020, in Terre Haute, Ind. (Jim Barcus/The Kansas City Star via AP)

In this 1998 photo, Wesley Ira Purkey, center, is escorted by police officers in Kansas City, Kan., after he was arrested in connection with the death of 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales. Purkey was also convicted of kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old girl and is scheduled to be executed on July 15, 2020, in Terre Haute, Ind. (Jim Barcus/The Kansas City Star via AP)

But government lawyers said there was no obstacle to going through with the execution Thursday if the Supreme Court lifted the injunctions.

Purkey was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. On Tuesday, Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death at the same facility after his eleventh-hour legal bids failed.

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The court's four liberal justices dissented.

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.”

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She was joined by fellow liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

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