Despite years of advocacy from activists and celebrities, who pleaded for the court to reexamine the case of Brandon Bernard, the federal government completed the execution of the 40-year-old at 9:27 p.m. on Thursday in Indiana, using lethal injection on the man convicted of murder as a teenager in 1999.
— Mike Balsamo (@MikeBalsamo1) December 11, 2020
According to Vice, Bernard died an hour after the Supreme Court denied a stay of his execution, making the decision with a 6-3 ruling. Sonia Sotomayor, who was one of three judges to dissent, said the execution proceeded without giving Bernard another chance to defend himself.
“Today, the Court allows the Federal Government to execute Brandon Bernard, despite Bernard’s troubling allegations that the Government secured his death sentence by withholding exculpatory evidence and knowingly eliciting false testimony against him,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “Bernard has never had the opportunity to test the merits of those claims in court. Now he never will.”
— ً aliyah⁷ ♡ ia (@FAIRYNOCHU) December 11, 2020
As an 18-year-old in 1999, Bernard became involved in the killing of Todd and Stacie Bagley, two youth ministers who were visiting Texas from Iowa, according to The New York Times. The couple had agreed to give a ride to the teenager and a group of his friends. But the young men threatened the Bagleys after getting in the car.
“They pointed a gun at him, forced him and Stacie into the trunk of their car, and drove the couple around for hours while attempting to steal their money and pawn Stacie’s wedding ring,” the Justice Department stated.
Christopher Vialva, who was executed in September, was found guilty of shooting the couple. Bernard was convicted for setting the car on fire after his friend shot the Bagleys.
In the midst of President Donald Trump's unprecedented push to complete a series of executions during his final days in office, Bernard became the ninth prisoner to be killed by the federal government since July.
“We'd have to go back to 1896 to find another year where there were 10 or more executions,” Ngozi Ndulue, director of research at the Death Penalty Information Center, told BBC News.
According to CNN, there hasn't been any state which has held an execution since July, postponing the death penalty for COVID-19-related reasons. But the federal government has still scheduled four more executions which could be carried out before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
"The decision to move forward with all these super spreader events in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed a quarter of a million Americans is historically unprecedented," Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN.
In the past two months, more than 500,000 people signed a petition, demanding for Bernard to be taken off death row. Kim Kardashian West was among the leaders of the advocacy group.
"I stand by what I have always said, I can empathize and feel pain for the victims and their families," the celebrity tweeted on Thursday. "Killing Brandon will not bring them back and I believe in my heart of hearts killing him isn’t right. What Brandon did was wrong, but killing him won’t make things right."
I stand by what I have always said, I can empathize and feel pain for the victims and their families. Killing Brandon will not bring them back and I believe in my heart of hearts killing him isn’t right. What Brandon did was wrong, but killing him won’t make things right.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) December 10, 2020
As Blavity previously reported, a nearly all-white jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District sentenced Bernard two decades ago. Several jurors have since advocated for the man to be saved from the death sentence.
Angela Moore, former assistant U.S attorney for the Western District of Texas, said "a teenager who takes part in committing a terrible crime may transform over the years into a thoughtful adult."
"From everything I have read, it appears that Brandon is just such a person – someone who, even in prison, has maintained rich relationships with his loved ones and worked to find meaning in his life by helping at-risk teenagers avoid a criminal path," she wrote last month. "Remarkably, in two decades of incarceration, Brandon has never been disciplined for a single violation of prison rules."
In his final words, Bernard apologized to the family of the Bagleys and his own family.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I wish I could take it all back, but I can't."
Georgia A. Bagley, Todd's mother, said the apology has helped in her healing and she forgives Bernard. The family also thanked Trump for carrying out the execution.
"It has been a very difficult to wait 21 years for the sentence that was imposed by the judge and jury on those who cruelly participated in the destruction of our children, to be finally completed," Georgia wrote. "This senseless act of unnecessary evil was premeditated and had many opportunities to be stopped at any time during a 9-hour period. This was torture, as they pleaded for their lives from the trunk of their own car."