- Keith Nelson, 45, was the second inmate executed this week
- He was pronounced dead at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, at 4:32pm EDT — about nine minutes after the execution began
- Observers included the mother of 10-year-old Pamela Butler, who Nelson raped and strangled with a wire 21 years ago
- Nelson stayed completely silent when asked if he had any last words
- Pamela had been returning to her Kansas City, Kansas, home on inline skates after buying cookies on October 12, 1999 when Nelson grabbed her
- He later raped the fifth-grader and strangled her with a wire
A Kansas girl's killer Friday became the fifth federal inmate put to death this year, an execution that went forward only after a higher court tossed a ruling that would have required the government to get a prescription for the drug used to kill him.
Questions about whether the drug pentobarbital causes pain prior to death had been a focus of appeals for Keith Nelson, 45, the second inmate executed this week in the Trump administration's resumption of federal executions this summer after a 17-year hiatus.
Nelson, who displayed no outward signs of pain or distress during the execution, was pronounced dead at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, at 4:32 p.m. EDT — about nine minutes after the execution began.
Observers included the mother of 10-year-old Pamela Butler, who Nelson raped and strangled with a wire 21 years ago.
There was silence from Nelson when a prison official looming over him asked if he had any last words to witnesses behind the execution-chamber glass.
Nelson didn't utter a word, grunt or shake his head no. After the official waited for about 15 seconds, his eyes fixed on Nelson waiting in vain for any sign of an answer, he turned away and began the execution procedure.
Nelson didn't appear to deliberately move a muscle or turn his head toward the family witness room, where Pamela's mom wore a T-shirt emblazoned with her daughter's picture. Angel wings jutted out from behind Pamela's image.
But earlier, before curtains opened enabling witnesses to see inside the chamber, Nelson's spiritual adviser, Sister Barbara Battista, was allowed to walk up and stand two feet from the gurney, lean in and hear his last words, she told The Associated Press later.
'He said he wanted me to tell his lawyers he didn't have to wear an adult diaper during the execution. He was glad about that,' she said. 'He'd also told me (days) earlier he didn't want to be forced to do that, that it was undignified.'
Battista, who stayed in the chamber as Nelson was put to death, standing farther away, said her interpretation of his silence during the public portion was that he was afraid if he said anything, he might then say something inappropriate.
Battista, a longtime anti-death penalty activist, said she made a point of addressing Nelson by his first name in his last minutes alive.
'He wanted someone there who would call him 'Keith' rather than 'Inmate Nelson,' she said.
Nelson, whose face was obscured from witnesses behind a medical mask, remained still even as the lethal dose of pentobarbital was delivered. None of his limbs twitched or quivered, though his his chest and midsection briefly heaved and shuttered involuntarily.
The relative stillness and quiet was a contrast to the scene on on October 12, 1999, as Nelson grabbed Pamela off the street and threw her into his truck. As Pamela screamed, one of her sisters who saw her abducted began screaming, too.
Pamela had been returning to her Kansas City, Kansas, home on inline skates after buying cookies. As he drove off with her, he made a rude gesture to her sister as she screamed. He later raped the fifth-grader and strangled her with a wire.
Pamela's mom, Cherri West, said she didn't expect Nelson to express remorse. She said, if anything, she thought he might curse at her and her family as he had done during criminal proceedings.
'I wasn't expecting him to say anything because he never had no remorse,' she said. 'I have no remorse for him.'
Nelson showed no remorse during a sentencing hearing statement and instead 'blistered the district court and the victim's family with a profanity laden tirade,' the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in one ruling.
After he was declared dead and curtains were again drawn across the windows, Battista was allowed to say a prayer over, touch and anoint Nelson's body, she said.
Nelson's attorneys, Dale Baich and Jen Moreno, said in a statement Friday that they had come to know him as someone other than a killer, that they 'saw his humanity, his compassion, and his sense of humor.'
'The execution of Keith Nelson did not make the world a safer place,' they said.
A flurry of filings by Nelson's legal team over several weeks zeroed in on pentobarbital, which depresses the central nervous system and, in high doses, eventually stops the heart.
In one filing in early August, Nelson's attorneys cited an unofficial autopsy on one inmate executed last month, William Purkey, saying it indicated evidence of pulmonary edema in which the lungs fill with fluid and causes a painful sensation akin to drowning.
The federal government has defended the use of pentobarbital, disputing that Purkey's autopsy proved he suffered. They have also cited Supreme Court ruling precedent that an execution method isn't necessarily cruel and unusual just because it causes some pain.
In her overturned ruling, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan halted Nelson's execution early Thursday, saying laws regulating drugs require the prescriptions, even for executions. Within hours, an appellate panel tossed her ruling.
Nelson's crime was horrific by any measure.
Nelson, who didn't previously know Butler or her family, told a co-worker a month earlier he planned to find a female to kidnap, torture, rape and kill because he expected to go back to prison anyway on other charges, prosecutors said.
After killing Butler, he dumped her body in a wooded area near a Missouri church.
With the execution Wednesday of Lezmond Mitchell — the only Native American on federal death row — the federal government under President Donald Trump registered more executions in 2020 than it had in the previous 56 years combined.
The executions of Nelson and Mitchell were carried out the same week as the Republican National Convention, where many Trump supporters sought to portray him as a law-and-order candidate.
Other 2020 federal executions:
Daniel Lewis Lee
Daniel Lewis Lee, 56, a 46-year-old member of the white supremacist group Aryan Peoples' Republic, was the first person to be put to death in a federal execution in 17 years at Terre Haute prison in Indiana on July 14.
In 1999, Lee was convicted of the 1996 murder of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell, in Arkansas.
In a statement to DailyMail.com, Lee's attorney Morris Moon last year said that his case 'exemplifies many of the serious flaws in the federal death penalty system.'
In the shocking crime, Lee and the ringleader of the Aryan People's Republic, Chevie Kehoe, dressed in police raid clothing and lay in wait for Mueller in his home, according to court documents.
When the Muellers returned, Lee and Kehoe overpowered and incapacitated Mueller and his wife.
They then interrogated the couple's young daughter, Sarah Powell, about where they could find cash, guns, and munitions.
The home invaders found and took roughly $50,000 in cash, guns and ammunition.
After robbing and torturing the victims with a stun gun, prosecutors said Lee covered their heads with plastic bags, sealed the bags with duct tape, weighed down each victim with rocks, and threw the family of three into the Illinois Bayou.
Their bodies were found five months after they went missing.
However, Lee's attorney insisted that 'Kehoe was alone responsible for the death of the child in this case.'
'The prosecution witnesses testified that Mr Lee steadfastly refused to harm the child,' the lawyer said.
On May 4, 1999, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found Lee guilty of numerous offenses, including three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, and he was sentenced to death.
Kehoe, however, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences - a disparity that Lee's attorney said illustrates the 'grave injustice' of the federal death penalty.
Lee's attorney said that during the guilt phase of the trial, the government presented a hair they claimed was microscopically similar to Lee's as part of the evidence - though DNA later showed that the hair was not from Lee.
The lawyer also argued that the Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R), a psychological assessment that was presented to the jury during the penalty phase, is scientifically flawed.
'Mr. Lee's jury also never learned critical information about his exceptionally traumatic background,' the attorney said.
'Experts have described the physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; neglect; violence; and chronic trauma he suffered throughout his infancy, childhood and adolescence, as 'devastating' and 'simply extraordinary,' he continued.
Lee remained on death row since his conviction.
Kehoe is imprisoned in Florence High Penitentiary in Fremont County, Colorado.
Wesley Ira Purkey
Wesley Ira Purkey, 67, was executed on July 16 for kidnapping, raping and killing 16-year-old Jennifer Long before dismembering, burning and then dumping her body in a septic pond in 1998.
On January 22, 1998, Purkey, drove from his home in Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri for a job interview with a plumbing company.
After the interview, Purkey smoked half a rock of crack cocaine and began driving down the street when he passed 16-year-old Jennifer Long, who was walking on the sidewalk.
He pulled over to ask Jennifer if she wanted to 'party,' then took her to a liquor store and bought her gin and orange juice.
He then told her needed to go back to his home in Kansas. She asked to be let out of his truck.
Instead, Purkey reached into the glove box, grabbed a boning knife, and placed it under his thigh, making it clear she couldn't leave.
When they arrived at his home in Lansing, about 30 miles away, Purkey took Jennifer into his basement.
Holding a knife, he ordered her to take her clothes off and lie down on the floor, where he raped her.
After Purkey finished the vile sexual assault, Jennifer told him that she had been a virgin.
He confessed that he then grew fearful, and as Jennifer tried to escape his house, he grabbed her leg and forced her to the ground.
The two briefly struggled before Purkey became enraged and repeatedly stabbed Jennifer in the chest, neck, and face with the boning knife, eventually breaking its blade inside her body.
When he confessed, he told FBI Agent Dirk Tarpley, 'it's not like in the movies. They don't die right away. It took her a little time to die.'
Purkey dismembered Jennifer's body with a chainsaw and tried to burn the body parts in his fireplace while his wife and stepchildren were away at work and school.
Nine months after raping and murdering Jennifer Long, Purkey was employed by a plumbing company when he met Mary Ruth Bales, 80, on a service call at her home during the evening of October 26.
Purkey told Bales his employer charged a lot for the job she needed, and he offered to return later to do the work under the table if she would pay him $70 up front.
She paid, and Purkey left, using Bales's money to hire a prostitute and buy several rocks of crack cocaine the next morning.
Purkey and the prostitute retired to a motel room for several hours, where they had sex and smoked the crack cocaine before driving together to Bales's house.
Telling the prostitute that someone who lived in the home owed him money, Purkey went inside with a toolbox from his truck and bludgeoned Bales to death in her bedroom with a claw hammer.
Investigators determined that Bales died from blunt force trauma resulting from repeated strikes to her skull with the claw side of the hammer.
On November 5, 2003, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri found Purkey guilty of kidnapping a child resulting in the child's death, and he was sentenced to death.
Wesley Ira Purkey was executed Thursday after the Supreme Court voted it could go ahead, after he was granted a delay Wednesday.
The only Native American on federal death row was put to death Wednesday, August 26, despite objections from many Navajo leaders who had urged President Donald Trump to halt the execution on the grounds it would violate tribal culture and sovereignty.
With the execution of Lezmond Mitchell for the grisly slayings of a nine-year-old and her grandmother, the federal government under the pro-death penalty president has now carried out more executions in 2020 than it had in the previous 56 years combined.
Mitchell, 38, expressed no remorse during the public portion of the execution. Asked by a prison official if he had any last words for victims' family members and other witnesses behind glass at the death chamber, Mitchell casually responded, 'No, I'm good.'
Moments later, prison officials began the lethal injection of pentobarbital that flowed to IVs in his hands and forearms in the tiny, pale-green death chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Mitchell lay strapped down on his back, his glasses still on and a medical mask across his face, never moving or tilting his head to look around the room. His chest heaved and his thumb tapped the gurney momentarily, as his breathing became labored and his stomach area began to throb. But after about 10 minutes, Mitchell no longer appeared to move at all and his partially tattooed hands turned pale.
Mitchell, then 20, and an accomplice were convicted of killing Tiffany Lee and 63-year-old Alyce Slim after the grandmother offered them a lift as they hitchhiked on the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation in 2001. They stabbed Slim 33 times, slit Tiffany's throat and stoned her to death. They later mutilated both bodies.
A bid by tribal leaders to persuade Trump to commute Mitchell's sentence to life in prison failed, as did last-minute appeals by his lawyers for a stay.
Dustin Lee Honken
Dustin Honken, 52, dubbed 'Iowa's Walter White' after he went from being a nerdy chemistry student to a methamphetamine kingpin and murderer, became the third to be executed this year on July 17.
Honken was sentenced to death in 2004 for the brutal 1993 slayings of five people including two little girls aged 10 and six and government informants.
Honken shot and killed five people—two men who planned to testify against him and a single, working mother and her ten-year-old and six-year-old daughters.
In 1993, Honken was operating a methamphetamine lab in Arizona when one of the two dealers he used for distribution, Greg Nicholson, was pinched by police and turned informant, according to court documents.
Honken was arrested on state drug charges, but made bond. Once free, he began a desperate hunt for Nicholson, who went into hiding by staying with Lori Duncan, a single mother raising her two girls, 10-year-old Kandi and six-year-old Amber.
On July 25, 1993, Nicholson, Duncan, Kandi, and Amber suddenly disappeared.
Five days later, Honken appeared for his plea hearing, but declined to plead guilty.
Honken told his attorney he heard a rumor Nicholson had skipped town. Honken also provided his attorney with a VHS tape of Nicholson saying Honken was not guilty of the charges against him.
The government turned its attention to the other possible witness against Honken: his other dealer, Terry DeGeus.
DeGeus disappeared on November 5, 1993.
After another informant wore a wire and caught Honken referencing eliminating the witnesses against him, Honken's bail was revoked.
While incarcerated, Honken admitted to other inmates he killed witnesses to avoid earlier charges. Honken went into great detail about the murders.
Using prison informants, investigators discovered the bodies of Nicholson and the Duncan family, buried in a single hole located in a wooded area outside Mason City.
Kandi and Amber each had a single bullet hole in the back of their heads.
Nicholson and Duncan were bound, gagged, and shot multiple times, including once in the head.
DeGeus's body was found in a field a few miles away, face down in a shallow hole with a severely fragmented skull having been shot one or more times.
On October 14, 2004, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa found Honken guilty of numerous offenses, including five counts of murder during the course of a continuing criminal enterprise, and he was sentenced to death.
Christopher Andre Vialva
Christopher Andre Vialva, 39, from Texas, is on federal death row for the brutal murders of an Iowa pastor and his wife in 1999.
Vialva, 19 at the time, his accomplice Brandon Bernard, now 39, and others, kidnapped Todd and Stacey Bagley during a carjacking and drove around Bell County with them locked in the trunk for about six hours while using the couple's ATM cards.
Vialva drove the car to a secluded area of Fort Hood, opened the trunk and shot Stacey in the head.
He then shot Todd and ordered his accomplices to pour lighter fluid in the trnk and car.
Bernard set the car alight.
Stacey had survived the shooting and died from smoke inhalation.
Vialva was sentenced to death for the carjacking that resulted in death, the murder of Todd and conspiracy to commit murder or attempted murder of Stacey.
Bernard was sentenced to death for the murder of Stacey's murder.
They were sentenced to death in Waco's federal district court.
They were tried in federal court because the murders happened on Fort Hood.
Vialva is scheduled to be executed on September 24.
William Emmett LeCroy
William Emmett LeCroy is on death row for the rape and murder of Joann Lee Tiesler, a 30-year-old nurse, in 2001.
LeCroy broke into Tiesler's home in Gilmer County, Georgia, and lay in wait for her to return.
He then attacked her, bound her, strangled her with an electrical cord, and raped her.
LeCroy, who had a long rap sheet before the murder, then slashed his victim's throat and stabbed her in the back five times.
He made off with Tiesler's vehicle and fled to the Canadian border, where he was arrested.
In March 2004, he was found guilty of carjacking resulting in death and sentenced to death.
LeCroy's execution is scheduled for September 22.