The Summer of Executions
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
This week the Department of Justice under the direction of Attorney General William Barr carried out three federal executions after a 17-year-hiatus, with a fourth scheduled in late August.
Legal teams for all three men consistently tried halting the executions based on the Religious Freedom Act, the Federal Death Penalty Act, and the 8th Amendment.
Daniel Lee was executed at 8:07AM on Tuesday July 14, 2020. Lee was convicted of murdering an Arkansas family in the 1990s. He maintained his innocence to the end, saying just before he died, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I’m not a murderer. You’re killing an innocent man.” After his execution Attorney for Mr. Lee Ruth Friedman stated, “Over the four hours it took for this reckless and relentless government to pursue these ends, Daniel Lewis Lee remained strapped to a gurney: a mere 31 minutes after a court of appeals lifted the last impediment to his execution at the federal government’s urging, while multiple motions remained pending, and without notice to counsel, he was executed…it is beyond shameful that the government, in the end, carried out this execution in haste, in the middle of the night, while the country was sleeping. We hope that upon awakening, the country will be as outraged as we are.” The victims’ family members were against the killing of Daniel Lee, and their requests to stay his execution were ignored by the federal government.
Wesley Purkey of Missouri, was executed at 8:19AM Thursday July 16, 2020. Mr. Purkey was executed for the murder of 16-year-old Jennifer Long in Kansas City, Missouri. He expressed regret in his last statements and said, “This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever. Thank you.” After Wesley’s execution Rebecca Woodman, attorney for Mr. Purkey stated, “Wes Purkey’s execution should shock the conscience of anyone who cares about justice and the rule of law. The government used every weapon in its arsenal to prevent any court from deciding the merits of his incompetency claim, even as evidence in its own possession showed Mr. Purkey’s mental capacity was profoundly impaired. And by barreling ahead to execute during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government recklessly placed hundreds of people at serious and unnecessary risk.” The father of Jennifer Long spoke after the execution, expressing frustration over the decades long wait and appeals process. The family did not accept Purkey’s apology and expressed that while there may be resolution, there is no closure and there never will be.
Both Mr. Lee and Mr. Purkeys executions occurred after midnight deadlines without death warrants, leading many attorneys in death penalty litigation to quesiton the legality of each exeuction. Prominent faith leaders and abolitionists around the country have called for federal investigations of each execution of these executions.
Dustin Honken of Iowa, was executed at 4:36PM July, 17, 2020, making him the 10th person executed in the United States during 2020. In 2005, Mr. Honken was given three life sentences for the 1993 killing of three adults, and a death sentence for the killing of two children. In his final moments he recited a poem followed by a prayer. “Mary Mother of God, pray for me.” After the execution Shawn Nolan Attorney for Dustin stated, “The Dustin Honken they wanted to kill is long gone. The man they killed today was a human being, who could have spent the rest of his days helping others & further redeeming himself.” Statements from the victims families are expected to be provided in time.
In all three instances of execution this week, the United States Supreme Court cast 5-4 votes allowing the executions to move forward.
The continued split votes of the highest court in the United States casts significant doubt on the constitutionality of many of its recent decisions, including decisions of life and death. You can read more about the timeline of events during the federal executions this past week from Death Penalty Information Center.
Federal death row prisoner and Missouri native, Keith Nelson, is scheduled to be executed in Terre Haute Indiana August 28th 2020, as calls for a stay of execution continue.
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty joins in the call to action from Sister Helen Prejean asking for Congress to investigate these executions and hold public hearings so the people can know about the lawlessness of these executions. We are grateful to everyone who gathered at the Federal Courthouse in Kansas City, in solidarity with abolition groups in Terre Haute Indiana, and across the nation, in opposition to the executions of Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey and Dustin Honken. We uplift all victims of the death penalty, as well as those who have been subjected to this inhumane and barbaric practice.
We will continue to work together in our call to abolish the death penalty in Missouri and across the nation.