Crime

New hearing, President Trump clemency sought for Kansas killer set to be executed

Attorneys for a federal death row inmate who confessed to killing a Kansas City teenager have asked for a chance to present claims that his trial lawyer was ineffective and failed to investigate his traumatic childhood, evidence the jury that sent him to death never heard.

Wesley Ira Purkey’s lawyers on Tuesday said they filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and requested a stay of his execution, which is set for Dec. 13.

They also said they filed a petition seeking clemency from President Donald Trump, urging him to commute Purkey’s death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Purkey’s attorneys have said his youth was marked by horrific abuse. The petition noted that as a child, Purkey was sexually abused by alcoholic family members and a Catholic priest, trauma that affected his development and contributed to his behavior, his lawyers said.

“Mr. Purkey is not ‘the worst of the worst,’” his attorney, Rebecca Woodman, said in a statement. “Had the jurors heard this information, at least one of them might have voted for a life sentence.”

Purkey is among five death-row inmates across the country set to be executed in the next five months. The executions, which were announced in July by the Justice Department, would be the first carried out by the federal government since 2003.

In 1998, Purkey drove into Kansas City from his home in Lansing, Kansas, where he spotted 16-year-old Jennifer Long. He asked the teen if she wanted to party, and she got in his pickup truck.

Later in his basement, Purkey raped Long, stabbed her repeatedly and used a chainsaw to cut her body into pieces. He burned her remains in a fireplace and then dumped her ashes 200 miles away in a septic pond in Clearwater, southwest of Wichita.

Nine months later, Purkey was arrested in the killing of 80-year-old Mary Ruth Bales, of Kansas City, Kansas. He pleaded guilty to her murder and was handed a life sentence.

Then in November 2003, a federal jury in the Western District of Missouri found Purkey guilty of kidnapping Long, resulting in her death. Prosecutors sought the death penalty.

Purkey has remained at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Long’s mother, Glenda Lamont, was overjoyed when she learned Purkey was set to be executed, saying she planned to attend it.

“I don’t want to say that I’m happy,” Lamont said in July. “At the same time, he is a crazy mad man that doesn’t deserve, in my opinion, to be breathing anymore.”

In a statement Tuesday about the new filings, Purkey’s attorneys said his “traumatic upbringing” was never fully investigated by his trial attorney, who has had more clients sentenced to death in federal court than any other defense lawyer in America.

Among a “myriad” of legal violations in Purkey’s case, his trial attorney also hired a friend to conduct investigative matters after that person was fired from a public defender’s office for serious misconduct, according to Purkey’s attorneys.

Purkey’s habeas petition details his struggles with mental health and addiction, issues his attorneys say run in his family. In his clemency petition, Purkey asked that Trump consider his dementia diagnosis and his remorse for his crime, according to his attorneys.

“He has not forgiven himself, and so he cannot ask for forgiveness from you or your office,” Purkey’s attorneys wrote in his clemency petition, which included a photograph of Purkey with his daughter and her family. “He asks only for your intervention, which would simply permit him to die in prison, at this late stage of his life.”

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.
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