Execution of Texas man in Trump’s final days prompts wave of anger

Brandon Bernard executed for his role in killing religious couple when he was 18

Brandon Bernard as he sits on death row awaiting his scheduled execution in Terre Haute, Indiana. Photograph: EPA.

Brandon Bernard as he sits on death row awaiting his scheduled execution in Terre Haute, Indiana. Photograph: EPA.

 

A wave of outrage from US human rights groups, activists, elected officials, and others over the execution on Thursday night of federal prisoner Brandon Bernard continued to grow on Friday amid calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

Bernard (40) was executed by lethal injection at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the US supreme court rejected a last-minute appeal to stay the execution and Donald Trump did not publicly respond to calls for him to intervene.

After 17 years without a federal execution, the Trump administration has executed nine inmates since July, and plans five more executions before Joe Biden takes office on January 20th. Mr Biden has pledged to eliminate the death penalty.

Massachusetts House of Representatives member Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat the sponsor of legislation in the House to end the federal death penalty, tweeted footage on Thursday night of Bernard speaking from prison. “Abolish the death penalty,” she wrote.

That call was taken up by activists from Ms Pressley’s progressive allies in Congress to Vanita Gupta, president of the leadership conference on civil and human rights.

“Brandon Bernard should be alive today,” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on Friday morning. “We must end all federal executions and abolish the death penalty. In a world of incredible violence, the state should not be involved in premeditated murder.”

Killings

Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty advocate, said she had spoken with Bernard the day before he died. He “told us about everything he was grateful for in his life,” she said. “He died with dignity and love, in spite of the cruel, unjust system that condemned him to die as a result of egregious prosecutorial misconduct.”

Bernard was sentenced for a role in the 1999 killings in Texas of an Iowa couple whose bodies he burned in the trunk of their car after they were shot by an accomplice, Christopher Vialva.

He directed his last words to the family of Todd and Stacie Bagley, the couple he and Vialva were convicted of killing: “I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”

He was pronounced dead at 9.27pm eastern time (2.27am Irish time).

“Brandon Bernard was 19 when he committed murder,” tweeted Julián Castro, the former housing secretary from Texas. “Since then, five jurors and a former prosecutor have said they don’t support the death penalty in his case. Brandon will be the ninth person executed by the federal government this year. We must end this horrible practice.”

Advocates for Bernard included the reality show star Kim Kardashian West and others thought to have Mr Trump’s ear, including two lawyers who defended Mr Trump at his impeachment trial this year in the US Senate and who filed briefs in the supreme court appeal, Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr.

Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of the execution, saying she wanted to thank Mr Trump, attorney general William Barr and others at the justice department for bringing the family some closure. She became emotional when she spoke about the apologies from Bernard before he died and from Vialva, who was executed in September.

“The apology and remorse ... helped very much heal my heart,” she said, beginning to cry and then recomposing herself. “I can very much say: I forgive them.”

Series of executions

In a statement when executions were resumed in July, Mr Barr said the government “owed” it to victims to kill the convicts. “The justice department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” he said.

Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old Louisiana truck driver, is set to die next Friday for killing his two-year-old daughter. Bourgeois’s lawyers alleged he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. Several courts said evidence did not support that claim.

The first series of federal executions over the summer were of white men, which critics said seemed calculated to make them less controversial amid summer protests over racial discrimination.

Four of the five inmates set to die before Mr Biden’s inauguration are black men. The fifth is a white woman who would be the first female inmate executed by the federal government in nearly six decades. – Guardian