(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice executed convicted murderer Wesley Purkey on Thursday, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said, in the second federal execution in a week after a 17-year pause, over objections by his lawyers that he had dementia and no longer understood his punishment.
The execution had been blocked by a federal court, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday overruled it, just as it had done in another case on Tuesday, once again putting the federal government back in the business of executing prisoners.
Purkey, 68, was convicted in 2003 in Missouri of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl before dumping her dismembered and burned remains in a septic pond.
Purkey was pronounced dead at 8:19 a.m. EDT (1219 GMT) at the Justice Department’s execution chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, the spokeswoman, Kristie Breshears said by phone.
His lawyers had argued he has brain damage and dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. They said that although he had accepted responsibility for his crime, he no longer understood the reason for his execution and that killing him would breach the U.S. Constitution.
Before Tuesday, when the Justice Department executed convicted killer Daniel Lee in Terre Haute, the federal government had only executed three people since 1963, all from 2001 to 2003.
Lee had joined Purkey and other death row inmates in lawsuits challenging the legality of the government’s new one-drug lethal-injection protocol using pentobarbital, a barbiturate, which the Justice Department announced a year ago, replacing its three-drug protocol.
A federal judge agreed with a medical expert cited by the condemned men’s lawyers that the drug was likely to breach a constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” by causing a painful drowning sensation as bloody fluid filled their lungs before they lost consciousness.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)