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Federal judge halts execution of man whose lawyers argue suffers from dementia


A federal judge on Wednesday halted the execution of a man who’s said to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Wesley Ira Purkey was scheduled to die by lethal injection Wednesday evening at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, but U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction prohibiting the federal Bureau of Prisons from going forward with the execution.

The news comes just a day after the federal government carried out its first execution in 17 years: Daniel Lewis Lee died by lethal injection Tuesday evening at the same federal prison.

Purkey, 68, was convicted in the gruesome kidnapping and killing of a Kansas City teenager in 1998. Last year, lawyers asked a judge to halt his execution claiming he wasn’t mentally fit to be executed.

“Wesley Purkey lacks a rational understanding of the purpose of his execution and cannot communicate rationally with counsel,” they wrote in court papers, adding that he also suffered severe trauma that began in childhood, including witnessing abuse and being abused by his parents.

On Wednesday, one of his attorneys, Rebecca Woodman, said that Purkey is “a 68-year old, severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” according to CNN.

While Judge Chutkan didn’t rule on his competency to be put to death, she said that he’d suffer “irreparable harm” if he was executed before the court had a chance to evaluate his case.

His mental health state have caught the attention of mental health professionals, who have recently urged U.S. Attorney William Barr to commute his sentence to life in prison, The Associated Press reported.

Last week, three organizations — The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Mental Health America and the Treatment Advocacy Center — said that executing people like Purkey “constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and does not comport with ‘evolving standards of decency.’”