AG Brnovich Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Resume Wednesday's Federal Execution of Child Murderer

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) to vacate the stay recently granted by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and proceed with the federal government's planned execution of Wesley Ira Purkey this Wednesday.

After brutally murdering an 80-year old woman with the claw end of a hammer (for which he received a life sentence), Wesley Ira Purkey later confessed to murdering and then dismembering 16-year-old Jennifer Long with a boning knife, after kidnapping and raping her. Purkey was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to death on January 23, 2004 for Long’s vicious murder. 

Since being sentenced to death more than sixteen years ago, Purkey has pursued numerous actions challenging his conviction and sentence. He lost his direct appeal after the Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari in 2006. He similarly lost his post-conviction relief action in 2014.

Purkey nonetheless has thrown up a litany of new, late-breaking challenges ever since he was set to be put to death in December of last year by U.S. Attorney General William Barr. 

One of those challenges took aim at the federal execution protocols, which succeeded in delaying Purkey’s original execution date. In December 2019, Arizona led a brief of 14 Attorneys General in support of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (FBOP) protocol for executing death row inmates. The Supreme Court denied the appeal and refused to block the executions in late June of this year, clearing the way for the government to resume executions for the first time since 2003.

However, on July 2, 2020, the Seventh Circuit denied Purkey relief but inexplicably still issued a stay of his execution, noting that he was unlikely to get further relief from the full court or the Supreme Court. 

“The stay recently granted by the Seventh Circuit undermines the government’s interest in finality and prevents lawful capital sentences from being carried out,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “The victims of these heinous crimes, their families and our communities deserve justice.”

In Arizona's amicus, the State argues that this recent ruling from the Seventh Circuit delaying Purkey's execution undermines the interest in the finality of lawful capital sentences. States in which capital punishment is authorized, including Arizona, have an important perspective and a significant interest in ensuring that — after direct and collateral reviews are completed — stays of execution are not issued absent a significant possibility of success on the merits. This is necessary to promote the rule of law and to prevent further harm to victims. 

Arizona argues that the rights of victims are assaulted each time proceedings are delayed or the finality of judgments is jeopardized. The harms inflicted on victims through delay have been repeatedly recognized in the law. The lengthening of these federal proceedings and the postponement of sentences delays justice for victims and results in additional pain for their families.

Copy of July 2020 Arizona Amicus Brief.

Copy of the AZAG 2019 brief supporting FBOP.