The case of Brandon Bernard, who received a lethal injection of phenobarbital inside a death chamber at a US prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, was a rare execution of a person who was in his late teens when his crime was committed.
With witnesses watching from behind a glass barrier, Bernard, 40, was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. ET.
Bernard addressed his last words to the family of the couple he killed, speaking with surprising calm for someone he knew was about to die. “I’m sorry,” he said, raising his head and looking at the witness room windows. “Those are the only words I can say that fully capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
Speaking for more than three minutes, Bernard said he had been waiting for this opportunity to say he was sorry, not only to the family of the victims, but also for the pain he caused his own family. Earlier, he said of his role in the murder: “I wish I could take it all away, but I can’t.
Bernard was 18 when he and four other teenagers kidnapped and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley as they were leaving a Sunday service in Killeen, Texas. Trump resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus despite the coronavirus outbreak in US prisons.
Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old truck driver from Louisiana, will die Friday for killing his 2-year-old daughter by repeatedly banging his head against the windows and dash of a truck. Bourgeois’s lawyers alleged that he had an intellectual disability and was therefore ineligible for the death penalty, but several courts said the evidence did not support that claim.
Before Bernard’s execution, Kardashian West tweeted that she had spoken to him before: “The hardest call I’ve ever had. Brandon, selfless as ever, focused on his family and made sure they were okay. He told me not to cry. because our fight is not over. “
And just before the execution was scheduled, Bernard’s lawyers filed documents with the Supreme Court to stop the execution. The legal team expanded to include two very high-profile attorneys: Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard law professor who was part of Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team and whose clients include OJ Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Mike Tyson; and Ken Starr, who also defended Trump during impeachment and is most famous as the independent attorney who led the Bill Clinton investigation.
But approximately two and a half hours after the scheduled execution date, the Supreme Court denied the request, clearing the way for the execution to proceed.
Bernard had been crocheting in prison and even launched a death row crochet group in which inmates have shared patterns to make sweaters, blankets and hats, said Ashley Kincaid Eve, an anti-death penalty activist.
Eve forwarded Bernard’s last communication with her to The Associated Press on Wednesday, in which she wrote: “I feel good today!” Eve, who is an Indianapolis-based attorney but has not represented Bernard, said she was not as resigned to dying as others executed this year.
“He desperately wants to live,” he said.
Federal executions during a presidential transfer of power are also rare, especially during a transition from a death penalty advocate to a president-elect like Biden opposed to capital punishment. The last time executions were carried out in an unsuccessful period was during Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the 1890s.
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Defense attorneys have argued in court and in a Trump clemency petition that Bernard was a low-ranking subordinate member of the group. They say both Bagleys were likely killed before Bernard doused his car with lighter fluid and set it on fire, a claim that conflicts with government testimony at trial. Bernard, they say, has repeatedly expressed remorse.
“I can’t imagine how they feel about losing their family,” Bernard said of Bagley’s surviving relatives in a 2016 video statement from death row. “I wish we could all go back and change it.” She also described participating in youth outreach programs and embracing religion, saying, “I’ve tried to be a better person since that day.”
The case prompted calls for Trump to intervene, including from a prosecutor in his 2000 trial who now says that racial bias may have played a role in the imposition of a death sentence by the almost all-white jury against Bernard, who is black. Since then, several jurors have also said publicly that they regret not opting for life in prison.
Kardashian West said in a series of recent tweets that Bernard’s “role was minor compared to the other teens involved.”
The Justice Department refused to delay Thursday’s execution of Bernard, another inmate on Friday and three more in January, even after eight officials who participated in an execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus. The eight federal executions in 2020 are already more than in the previous 56 years combined.
One of Bernard’s co-defendants, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September. Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, issued a statement after that execution, saying: “I believe that when someone deliberately takes the life of another, they suffer the consequences of their actions.”
Prosecutors said Vialva, the oldest of the teens at 19, was the ringleader who shot the Bagleys as they lay in the trunk before Bernard set the car on fire.
The teens approached the Bagleys on the afternoon of June 21, 1999, and asked them to take them after they stopped at a convenience store, planning all along to rob the couple. After the Bagleys agreed, Vialva pulled out a pistol and put them in the trunk.
The Bagleys, both in their 20s, spoke through an opening in the back seat and urged their abductors to accept Jesus as they drove for hours trying to use the Bagley’s ATM cards. After the teens pulled to the side of the road, Vialva walked backwards and shot the Bagleys in the head.
The central question in the decision to sentence Bernard to death was whether Vialva’s shooting or Bernard’s fire killed the Bagleys.
Evidence from the trial showed Todd Bagley likely died instantly. But a government expert said Stacie Bagley had soot in her airways, indicating smoke inhalation and not the gunshot that killed her. Defense attorneys have said the claim was unproven. They have also said that Bernard believed both Bagleys were dead and that he feared the consequences of refusing the order from the senior Vialva to burn the car to destroy the evidence.
The first series of federal executions during the summer were of white men, which critics said seemed calculated to make them less controversial amid summer protests of racial profiling. Four of the five inmates who will die before Biden’s inauguration on January 20 are black men. The fifth is a white woman who would be the first inmate executed by the federal government in nearly six decades.
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The federal prosecutor who had recently sought a life sentence for Bernard, Angel Moore, said that recent research shows that people tend to view blacks as more guilty than their white counterparts when the facts surrounding a crime are the same. themselves and that young black men are less guilty. Jurors are likely to give them the benefits of the doubt due to their immaturity.
A juror whose 2016 written statement was included in the White House petition said that he still believes that Bernard is responsible for “horrible decisions that had horrendous results”, but that “I do not believe that Brandon should be executed for bad decisions. that he took when he was 18. ” . “
Bernard’s 16-year-old daughter had said her father constantly warned her to stay away from the wrong crowds and told her that just one bad decision can ruin her life.
He added: “I hope and ask the president to spare my father’s life.”