In a 5-4 decision issued on Thursday morning, the US Supreme Court vacated a preliminary injunction that had halted the execution of Wesley Purkey, clearing the way for the second federal execution of the week.
Purkey was convicted in federal court and sentenced to death in 2004 for the kidnapping and killing of 16-year-old Jennifer Long in 1998. He was not executed at the time because the had by that point suspended federal executions.
In 2019, US Attorney General William Barr ordered a return to federal executions. Alfred Bourgeois, Daniel Lewis Lee, Dustin Lee Honken, and Purkey, all of whom had been sentenced to death for killing children, were scheduled to be executed in 2020. Purkey was originally scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.
On Monday, the US District Court for the District of Columbia preliminarily enjoined the executions of Bourgeois, Lee, Honken, and Purkey. The court found that the four inmates had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of the claims that they were going to be executed under an unlawful and unconstitutional execution protocol.
In a 2 AM ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court vacated that preliminary injunction, allowing the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee to proceed later that morning.
On Wednesday, the district court issued a preliminary injunction to halt the execution of Purkey, who was scheduled to be executed that day. The US Department of Justice appealed to the Supreme Court, asking that the court vacate the injunction. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan dissented from the majority opinion. Justice Breyer stated that both this case and David Lee Lewis’s case pointed towards “serious legal defects of a kind that have long plagued the administration of the death penalty in the United States.” Both cases “revealed the inherent arbitrariness of the death penalty.”
Purkey was executed by lethal injection at the Terre Haute, Indiana penitentiary after 8 AM Thursday morning. He was 68 years old and allegedly had Alzheimer’s disease.