A Zen Buddhist priest, who is a spiritual adviser to one of three federal death row inmates scheduled to be executed this month, filed a lawsuit Thursday arguing the Bureau of Prisons is putting him at risk for the coronavirus by moving forward with executions during a nationwide pandemic. Dale Hartkemeyer, who goes by the religious name Seigen, argues that he would be putting his life at risk if the federal government proceeds to execute Wesley Ira Purkey, as scheduled on July 15, because of his prior medical conditions including respiratory issues, the AP reports. The 68-year-old is asking a federal judge to delay Purkey’s execution until a coronavirus vaccine is available or there’s a widespread effective treatment.
Hartkemeyer said in court papers he has visited Purkey monthly as his priest since January 2009 to provide him with spiritual guidance and counseling. "I’m being asked to make an impossible decision—violate my religious beliefs or risk my health and life by attending an execution that could become a 'super-spreader' event for COVID-19," Hartkemeyer wrote in a blog post. As of Wednesday, there were five confirmed coronavirus cases at USP Terre Haute, the prison where the executions are scheduled to take place. One inmate there has died. Purkey, of Lansing, Kansas, was sentenced to death for the 1998 rape and murder of 16-year-old Jennifer Long. Two days before his execution date, another inmate will become the first federal prisoner to be executed since 2003.
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