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Death-Row Inmate from Kansas City Faces Execution on Federal Orders

9 min read

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice released a statement saying that they have issued an order and consequently scheduled the carrying out of five death penalties. Five inmates from throughout the country, currently on death row, will face execution. One of those five is Wesley Ira Purkey, aged 67. In 1998, the Kansas City man was found guilty of raping and killing a 16-year-old girl from Kansas City. After the crime, he dismembered the body. These will be the first federal government-ordered executions since 2003.

William P. Barr, Attorney General, said in a statement that he was the person who worked with the chief of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He influenced the chief to embrace the proposed addendum. With this, the Department of Justice received clearance for carrying out the first death penalty in almost 20 years. Barr also published that Purkey’s name was on the list of five inmates who will receive the ultimate punishment.

They have scheduled Purkey’s execution for December 13. It will be the third execution, with all five of them taking place in the timespan of December 9 to January 15. Glenda Lamont, the mother of the deceased teenager, Jennifer Long, was notably pleased with the news.

Mother Reacts

Lamont said that she was “absolutely ecstatic” the DOJ opted for this move. She claimed to have been abashed when she learned that the government had put a stop to executions of criminals who have committed suchlike atrocities. Asked if she would be present at the execution of Purkey, Lamont said that she would like to be, as she had waited for this moment since 1998.

Lamont added that, while she couldn’t easily declare happiness for the death of a human being, she saw Purkey as a mad person who didn’t deserve to be alive any longer. According to Lamont, when Purkey took her daughter’s life, he was playing God and thought he had the power to decide who would live and who wouldn’t.

Crime Details

Purkey’s crime took place on January 22, 1998. The then 46-year-old (also an ex-convict at the time) was high on crack and left his home in Lansing, Kansas. He drove to Kansas City, where he saw Long walking back home from East High School. Long was a sophomore brunette.

Purkey parked next to Long and asked her to join him for a party. The teenager, who had difficulties in the relationship with her family, accepted the invitation and sat in Purkey’s pickup truck.

Purkey drove back to his basement, where he held Long captive and took her by force. When the teenager tried to escape, Purkey repeatedly stabbed her until she was dead. He spent the following two days using an electric chainsaw to part her body in multiple pieces. He then burned the remains in a fireplace, for which he used diesel fuel and logs. Then, Purkey drove 200 miles away from his home to Clearwater, Kansas. There, he disposed of the ashes in a septic pond.

Purkey was at large for nine months, when the police arrested him for an unrelated crime. Namely, they charged him for the murder of Mary Ruth Bales, an 80-year-old resident of Kansas City, Kansas.

Bales died from beating with a claw hammer. To cover the murder, Purkey intended on burning Bales’ house down. Thankfully, a neighbor saw Purkey in the backyard and called the police. Purkey was arrested before he could set the house on fire.


Purkey received a life sentence in March 2000, when he pleaded guilty in Wyandotte County District Court. He admitted to Bales’ murder. Then, a year later, in October, Purkey confessed about raping and killing Long, which gave a conclusion to the crime four years after it happened. Purkey’s motivation for confession was that he felt he would receive better treatment in a federal prison, as opposed to a state one. The Long’s murder was a federal crime since Purkey carried Long across the state border.

However, this didn’t go as planned for Purkey. In November 2003, The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri saw a jury convict Purkey of child kidnapping which resulted in the child’s death. The prosecution was after the death penalty. Despite Purkey going back on his previous confession and recanting it, he received the death penalty in January 2004.

Purkey’s defence lawyers objected the carrying out of the sentence on Thursday. They cited the jury’s lack of reasoning for a death penalty and Purkey’s trial attorney’s mishaps as reasons why they should revisit the death sentence. Currently, Purkey’s at the U.S. Penitentiary.

Other Death-Row Convicts

The federal government stated that all five inmates will receive the penalty there, in Terre Haute, Indiana. Barr added that they have plans for further executions, which they will schedule at a later date. Presently, there are 62 inmates on federal death row, only one of which is female. This datum comes from the Death Penalty Information Center from Washington, D.C.

Missouri issued eight of those 62 convictions, which makes it the second-highest, after Texas’ 13. The only woman in question is Lisa Montgomery from Melvern, Kansas. She is currently in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is in a federal prison. In 2007, the court convicted Montgomery of the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett from Skidmore, Missouri. She then tried to carve out her unborn child from the womb. The medical staff managed to safely recover the baby.

Family Reactions

Marilyn Richards from Kansas City, Long’s stepmother, also welcomed Thursday’s news of Purkey’s execution. She found the execution to provide closure to both families of Long’s and Bales’. After some consideration, Richards decided not to attend the execution, viewing at as a negative experience. She opted for saying a prayer for Jennifer on that day.

Michelle McDaniel, a childhood friend of the victim, said she was in favor of carrying out the sentence. According to McDaniel, although impossible, were Purkey to return to society, there was no chance for his rehabilitation. To be successfully rehabilitated, McDaniel added, one needed to want to change, which Purkey repeatedly proved he didn’t. Although she was happy to accept life imprisonment, she found the death penalty to be more befitting.

McDaniel went on to say that it felt like justice for Jennifer. People of Kansas will now know that Purkey won’t be able to hurt anyone else anymore as he did with Jennifer and Bales. McDaniel put a lot of effort into keeping the memory of Long alive. She spent last year working on getting a memorial bench next to a walking trail in Independence.

Bales and Long are not the only victims of Purkey’s crimes. More than ten years prior to Long’s death, Purkey, together with an accomplice, robbed a man from Wichita and then fired two bullets in his head. Purkey also has a record of kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated battery. In prison, Purkey was a troublesome inmate and was stabbed twice. On one occasion, the guards found out, it was over a deal involving drugs.

Expert Opinion

Counselors that worked with Purkey wrote in their reports that he was a bright, amoral, and manipulative individual. One of the counselors, as was published by The Star, described Purkey as a “classical” psychopath, whose education diminished his antisocial tendencies. Purkey has an associate’s degree in literature.

In March 1997, Purkey was put on parole as he seemingly worked on rebuilding his life while imprisoned. A year later, a plumbing company hired Purkey which had him visit Bales’ house due to a leaky faucet. Bales gave him money to buy a part. Instead, Purkey bought some crack and returned to Bales’ home with a prostitute. That’s when he beat the old lady to death with a hammer. Purkey revisited the crime scene the next day to try to make it seem as though there was a break-in.

Confessing to Murder

During the murder trial, Purkey repeatedly claimed he was high during the killing, hoping the jury would place him in a treatment program for crack cocaine addiction. However, his efforts were unsuccessful. Purkey said that there were no words he could use to express his remorse for this murder, which he allegedly saw as senseless and heinous.

While the investigation of the Bales’ murder was taking place, Purkey spoke to officers and offered help for another case in exchange for a transfer to a federal prison, which he viewed more agreeable. The case in question was the disappearance of Jennifer Long, who was at the time listed as a missing person by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In 2003, Purkey stood trial in Kansas City. He then claimed he didn’t carry out a kidnapping, but that he confessed to doing so in order for the case to become a federal one.

Last year, according to federal court records, Purkey asked for his execution to take place sooner rather than later. Purkey said that he exhausted his remedies and there were no available options for him to appeal the sentence. They sent Purkey a letter, informing him of the fact that the DOJ scheduled execution date. In the note, they told Purkey he could ask for a presidential pardon.

T.J. Watson, warden of the prison where Purkey is awaiting his execution, said that he couldn’t share any information with the media or answer any question at this time. Watson claimed that he had to talk to Purkey first and go over the details regarding the execution.

Defense Attorney Complaints

Rebecca Woodman, Purkey’s attorney, released a written statement. In it, she said she acknowledged the pain he caused to victims’ families, as did Purkey. However, she disagreed with Barr’s statement that Purkey received a fair trial. Woodman pressed on by claiming that Purkey received abuse from family members who were alcoholics and a Catholic priest. Due to the abuse he suffered as a child, Purkey found solace in drugs. But, Woodman claimed, the jury never got to hear the personal background of Purkey’s which are at the root of these terrible events.

The attorney also talked about other mistreatments of the defendant, including his previous attorney having more clients sentenced to death than any other lawyer in the whole country. The previous attorney, Frederick A. Duchardt, hired his personal acquaintance to be in charge of the investigation after being fired for misconduct from a public defender’s office. Duchardt declined to address Woodman’s comments. Furthermore, Woodman said that a juror who shared she suffered sexual assault as a child was never asked if she felt she had the ability to remain impartial.

This wasn’t where the issues with the verdict ended, according to Woodman. The jury didn’t fill out the part of the verdict where they leave an explanation of why the death sentence was a suitable punishment. This is a mandatory part which serves for other courts to understand the decision. A judge provided the option of the jury going back to deliberations. However, Purkey’s attorney at the time accepted the verdict and declined the offer.

Finally, Woodman added that the timing of this decision should raise eyebrows when it comes to capital punishment under the current administration. Purkey is currently of deteriorating health and suffers from dementia.

Attorney General’s Statement

In the statement, Attorney General Barr said that all five inmates selected for execution have no more appellate and remedies left. Alongside Purkey, other criminals they will execute are Daniel Lewis Lee and Dustin Lee Honken. Honken, who murdered five people in Iowa, received his sentence in 2004. In 1999, a jury convicted Lee of killing a family of three. Lee was a white supremacist group member.

Barr said in the statement that the Justice Department asked for the death penalty against the worst of criminals, which these five individuals definitely were. All five of them stood a fair trial in front of a jury of peers.

Barr added that the Justice Department felt the responsibility and obligation towards the victims and victims’ families to carry out the sentence. The justice system, Barr continued, imposed these convictions, and the Justice Department was there to uphold the law. Moreover, Barr also announced that they will use a new protocol as they won’t utilize a three-drug cocktail which was in force before. Instead, they will use protocols of some states, such as Texas and Missouri, which use a single pentobarbital drug.

In 2014, Barack Obama, the President at the time, ordered a review of the capital punishment system and the issues that arise with lethal injections. This came after a state execution in Oklahoma went badly. Now that they have finished with the review, they can press on with executions.

Capital Punishment Support

In 2018, we saw an increase in public support for capital punishment. This comes as a change in trend, as there had been a somewhat sharp decline in support over the years. In fact, in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of people who supported the death penalty was at a four-decade low.

Since the restoration of the death penalty in 1988, there have been only three defendants whose executions have been a matter of federal government.

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