Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Death penalty weighed for teen’s killer

Defense cites childhood abuse of convict who raped, murdered girl

November 19, 2003

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— A federal jury adjourned Tuesday after nearly four hours of deliberating whether a Kansas man deserves to die for killing an Independence, Mo., teenager in 1998.

Jurors were to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. today to decide whether to sentence 51-year-old Wesley Ira Purkey to death or life in prison without a chance for parole.

"This defendant is uniquely deserving of the death penalty," U.S. Atty. Todd Graves told jurors. "If not him, then who? If not now, when?"

The same jury found Purkey guilty Nov. 5 of kidnapping Jennifer Long in Missouri and taking her to Kansas, where he killed her, then dismembered her corpse with a chain saw before burning the body parts.

The sentencing phase that began Nov. 10 was necessary because the death penalty is an option. Only a jury can sentence someone to death.

Purkey's attorney, Frederick Duchardt, told jurors Purkey's parents were alcoholics who abused him. He said Purkey's mother molested him and that Purkey suffered brain damage in an automobile accident and had a predisposition for alcohol and illegal drug use that he inherited from his parents.

"Mr. Purkey had the most god-awful upbringing imaginable," Duchardt said. "He was born into a cesspool."

Duchardt said Purkey was beaten as a child for stuttering.

Graves said Purkey admitted in December 1998 that he kidnapped and killed Long because he was facing life in prison in Kansas for the October 1998 murder of Mary Ruth Bales, an 80-year-old grandmother he beat to death with a hammer in her Kansas City, Kan., home.

Purkey told officers he would rather spend his life in a federal penitentiary than in a Kansas prison, Graves said. But what Purkey hadn't counted on, the prosecutor said, was that kidnapping someone and transporting them over state lines to kill them is a capital federal crime.

"He testified he'd be happy if he got a life sentence," assistant prosecutor Matt Whitworth told jurors Tuesday. "Is that justice for a lifetime of stealing, robbing, raping and killing?

"Giving him a life sentence, in his mind, is like sending him home back to his room. Is that what you want to do?"

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