The United States carries out rare executions during the presidential transition

By: AP |

December 11, 2020 7:31:54 pm

Gabby Prosser, left, and Nick Neeser, right, of Minneapolis, Minn., Speak with Samir Hazboun, center, of Louisville, Ky., During a protest against the execution of Brandon Bernard on Prairieton Road from the Federal Death Chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, Thursday evening, Dec. 10, 2020 (Austen Leake / The Tribune-Star via AP)

On Thursday, the Trump administration carried out its ninth federal execution of the year in what has been the first series of executions during a seedy presidential term in 130 years, killing a member of a Texas street gang in the murder. from a religious couple from Iowa more than two decades ago.

Four more federal executions are planned, including one on Friday, in the weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. One took place at the end of November.

The case of Brandon Bernard, who received a lethal injection of phenobarbital in a United States prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, was a rare execution of a person who was in his late teens when his crime was committed.

Several high-profile figures, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, had asked President Donald Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison.

With witnesses watching from behind a glass barrier that separated them from a pale green death chamber, Bernard, 40, was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. ET.

He directed his last words to the family of the couple in whom he played a role in the murder, speaking with surprising calm for someone who knew he was about to die.

“I’m sorry,” he said, raising his head and looking at the windows of the witness room. “Those are the only words I can say that fully capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”

As he spoke, he showed no outward signs of fear or distress, and he spoke lucidly and naturally. He spoke for more than three minutes, saying that he had been waiting for this opportunity to say that he was sorry, not only to the family of the victims, but also for the pain he had caused his own family.

Referring to his involvement in the murder, he said: “I wish I could take it all away, but I can’t.”

Bernard was 18 when he and four other teens kidnapped and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way from a Sunday service in Killeen, Texas, during which Bernard doused his car with lighter fluid and set it on fire with their bodies in it. rear trunk.

Trump resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus despite the coronavirus outbreak in US prisons.

Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, spoke to reporters 30 minutes after the execution and said she wanted to thank Trump, Attorney General William Barr and others at the Justice Department.

“Without this process,” he said, reading a statement, “my family would not have the necessary closure to move on in life.” She called the killings a “senseless act of unnecessary evil.”

But he stopped reading the prepared text and was emotional when he spoke about Bernard’s apologies before his death on Friday and an accomplice, Christopher Vialva, the leader of the group who shot the Bagleys in the head before the car was Burned. He was executed in September.

“The apology and the remorse … did a lot to heal my heart,” she said, starting to cry and then compose herself. “I can say a lot: I forgive you.”

Earlier, inside the death chamber, Bernard lay on a cross-shaped gurney with intravenous lines in both arms. He looked back when a US Marshal picked up a phone and asked if there was any reason not to continue. Bernard reacted calmly when the bailiff hung up the phone and said the execution could continue.

Bernard did not exhibit the labored breathing and constant trembling of others previously executed. A minute after the lethal injection, his eyes slowly closed and he barely moved again.

About 20 minutes later, slight white spots appeared on her skin and someone walked through a chamber door, listened to her heart, took her pulse, and then came out. Seconds later, an official said that Bernard was dead.

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 not eligible 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. “

Just before the execution was scheduled, Bernard’s attorneys filed documents with the Supreme Court to stop the execution, but the higher 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.

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 that executions were carried out in an unsuccessful period was when Grover Cleveland was president in the 1890s.

Defense attorneys have argued in court and in a Trump clemency petition that Bernard was a low-ranking member of the group. They say both Bagleys likely died before Bernard set fire to the car, a claim that conflicts with government testimony at trial.

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.

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, the oldest of the group at 19, pulled out a gun 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 that the smoke inhalation and not the gunshot 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. 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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