Mental fitness claim halts 2nd federal execution -- for now

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Protesters against the death penalty gather in Terre Haute, Ind., Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of a gruesome 1998 kidnapping and killing, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday evening at the federal prison in Terre Haute. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – A judge on Wednesday halted the execution of a man, said to be suffering from dementia, who was set to die by lethal injection in the federal government’s second execution this week after a 17-year hiatus.

Legal wrangling continued Wednesday night with execution still possible.

Wesley Ira Purkey, convicted of a gruesome 1998 kidnapping and killing, was scheduled to die at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Daniel Lewis Lee was put to death Tuesday after his eleventh-hour legal bids failed.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., imposed two injunctions prohibiting the federal Bureau of Prisons from moving forward with Purkey’s execution, but the Justice Department immediately appealed. An appeals court panel kept in place both injunctions in orders Wednesday evening. Appeals to the Supreme Court were still pending.

It all suggested a volley of litigation would continue into the evening, similar to what happened before the government executed Lee following a ruling from the Supreme Court. One of the injunctions imposed Wednesday would halt not only Purkey's execution, but another that has been scheduled for Friday and one in August.

Earlier Wednesday, the Supreme Court ended a separate stay by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Lee, 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 despite the coronavirus pandemic raging inside and outside prisons.

Purkey, 68, of Lansing, Kansas, would be the second.