With the first execution slated for International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean said on Monday’s episode of Democracy Now! that Trump’s decision to execute the group is a result of bestowing absolute power to people not fit to make such critical decisions.
“It just shows when you give absolute power over life and death to government officials, they can really do what they want,” she said. “And then for this to happen, it’s just—see, I’ve accompanied six people to execution. It’s this absolute power to take a human being who is alive and make these inscrutable decisions all along the way.”
Brandon Bernard was just 18 years old when he was accused of being an accomplice to the killing of a young white couple. At his trial, 11 of out of 12 jurors were white and his attorneys didn’t make an opening statement. Since being sentenced to death, five of the jurors have come out and expressed that they don’t think he should be executed, as Blavity previously reported.
"Take Brandon Bernard. I’ve gotten involved with his case. And just two times now, I’ve been able to be on conference calls with him and with his lawyers, trying to save his life,” Prejean said. “He was just 18 when the crime happened. Has expressed remorse. Can’t even imagine. He was just a young kid when this crime happened of these people being killed. And he did play some part in it, but anybody who knows Brandon knows he would never have consented to killing people as what happened.”
Brandon Bernard. Sentenced to death at 18 as an accomplice. Attorneys declined opening statements. Called no witnesses at penalty stage. 11 of 12 jurors were white. 5 of them now don't want death. His prosecutor has called for mercy. Bill Barr wants him executed on Dec. 10. More: pic.twitter.com/ezZoKpNVKS
— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) November 23, 2020
Prejean said the jury was misled about his involvement in gang activities which affected their perceptions of him.
“At his trial, supposedly an expert on future dangerousness, which has widely been debunked now as totally unpredictable. The jury was told that he was the leader of a gang. He wasn’t the leader. He was a low guy on the totem pole. So they have an image of him as this mastermind, this leader who gave all the directions for these people being killed,” she added.
On the day after Bernard’s scheduled execution, Alfred Bourgeois, another Black man, is slated to be executed on Dec. 11.
#BrandonBernard is scheduled to be executed on Dec 10#AlfredBourgeois is scheduled to be executed on Dec 11
Pls contact the @TheJusticeDept call AG Barr 202-353-1555 ask to halt the back to back executions! #BlackLivesMatter
— Karine Omry (@KarineOmry) November 30, 2020
On Jan. 14, Cory Johnson is set to be killed but his lawyers argued last month that “allowing Corey Johnson’s execution to go forward would be a grave injustice," due to his intellectual disability, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.
“Johnson suffered an awful childhood filled with physical and emotional abuse and extreme neglect, all risk factors for intellectual disability. He lived a transient childhood, shuttled between numerous homes and 10 different schools before he reached adolescence,” his lawyers wrote.
According to The Times Dispatch, Johnson was abandoned by his substance-abusing mother at 13 and given to residential facility for children with intellectual and emotional impairments, because he had difficulty learning and because she felt ill-equipped to help him with his disabilities, the lawyers said.
On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jan. 15, a Black man named Dustin Higgs is likely to have his death sentence carried out for his role as an accomplice in the murder of three women for which he was not the trigger man.
Thinking about #DustinHiggs makes me feel deeply sad, watching his picture, his art, knowing his story ???? it only makes me want to fight hard to save him. I don’t understand why this kind of things has to happen to an innocent person. I wish Dustin strength and freedom. pic.twitter.com/cmO8uoXbcu
— Valeria Albán✨ (@hellovale10) December 1, 2020
On Jan. 12, Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to be the first woman executed by the Department of Justice in almost 70 years. According to Democracy Now!, the Trump administration has denied her appeal for a reprieve.
“You always have to look at culpability—like Lisa Montgomery, culpability of somebody who is psychotic, who was brutalized and tortured her whole life. And then to pinpoint —identifying her by the crime, that she should be killed, it is so flawed. And the suffering is so great,” Prejean said.
— IndyStar (@indystar) November 24, 2020
For Prejean, it’s the clandestine nature of federal punishment that can’t be ignored and has caused much suffering to many families over the years.
“All of this is a secret ritual. The public is not going to be anywhere near and cannot be near Lisa Montgomery and what she is suffering now, and what it’s going to mean when she is put in an all-male prison,” she said.
While Trump has set out to execute the group, he's also been working in his last days to pardon former members of his administration.
Earlier this month, Trump announced he would use his powers under the Constitution to pardon Michael T. Flynn, a former Trump administration national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities in 2017 about contacting Russian parties, according to CNN.