Death Row Inmate Makes Horrific ‘Mistake’ With Last Meal, Suffers ‘Excruciating’ Execution

Death Row Inmate Makes Horrific ‘Mistake’ With Last Meal, Suffers ‘Excruciating’ Execution
Credit: Kansas Department of Corrections

Wesley Ira Purkey, a death row inmate, underwent what an autopsy report described as an “excruciating” execution, which highlighted a critical oversight involving his last meal. At the age of 68, Purkey faced lethal injection after his 2004 death row sentencing for the heinous crimes of kidnapping, raping, and murdering 16-year-old Jennifer Long in 1998, as well as the murder of 80-year-old Mary Bales.

The report from his autopsy revealed that Purkey suffered from severe bilateral acute pulmonary edema during the execution process. This medical condition caused fluid to rapidly fill his lungs and trachea, leading to a sensation similar to near-drowning, described by medical experts as one of the most painful experiences imaginable. Dr. Gail Van Norman, a medical expert, noted that such suffering is a common consequence of the lethal injection drug pentobarbital, used during executions.

Adding to the poignancy of Purkey’s final moments was his last meal request—a seemingly innocent desire for pecan pie, which he asked to save for later, not realizing there would be no “later.” This detail underscores a tragic misunderstanding of his immediate fate and adds a layer of human complexity to the already grim nature of capital punishment.

Purkey’s last words expressed deep remorse for the pain he caused to Jennifer Long’s family and his own daughter, emphasizing the irrevocable harm of his actions. The execution did not go unnoticed, with Jennifer’s father, William Long, stating that it was long overdue, emphasizing that Purkey had taken his daughter’s last breath, and now it was his turn.

This case raises significant ethical and procedural questions about the death penalty, particularly concerning the humaneness of lethal injections. It also highlights the psychological aspects of inmates facing their imminent execution, illustrated by Purkey’s misunderstanding of his last meal request. The continued debate over capital punishment in the U.S. often centers on such cases, pushing for a reevaluation of execution methods and the overall justification of the death penalty.