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Whether inmate mentally fit for execution could cause delay

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CHICAGO (AP) — The man next on the list to be executed by the federal government after a nearly 20-year hiatus ended this week may have a better chance of…
CHICAGO (AP) — The man next on the list to be executed by the federal government after a nearly 20-year hiatus ended this week may have a better chance of avoiding lethal injection, legal experts say, because he suffers from dementia and so, his lawyers say, can no longer grasp why he’s slated to die.
Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of a gruesome 1998 kidnapping and killing, is scheduled for execution Wednesday at the U. S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death Tuesday after his own 11th-hour legal bids failed.
Lee, who was convicted of killing an Arkansas family in a 1990s plot to build a whites-only nation, was the first of four condemned men scheduled to die in July and August.
Purkey,68, of Lansing, Kansas, would be the second, but his lawyers were still expected to press for a ruling from the Supreme Court on his competency.
“This competency issue is a very strong issue on paper,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The Supreme Court has halted executions on this issue in the past. At a minimum, the question of whether Purkey dies is going to go down to the last minute.”
Lee’s own execution went forward a day late. It was scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday, but the Supreme Court only gave the green light in a narrow 5-4 ruling early Tuesday.
The issue of Purkey’s mental health arose in the runup to his 2003 trial and when, after the verdict, jurors had to decide whether he should be put to death in the killing of 16-year-old Jennifer Long in Kansas City, Missouri. Prosecutors alleged that he raped and stabbed her, dismembered her with a chainsaw, burned her, then dumped her ashes 200 miles (320 kilometers) away in a septic pond in Kansas. Purkey was separately convicted and sentenced to life in the beating death of 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales, of Kansas City, Kansas.

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