WASHINGTON – Despite a high-profile clemency campaign, the Justice Department on Thursday executed Brandon Bernard by lethal injection for his role in a deadly double robbery in 1999 when he was 18.
Mr. Bernard, the ninth man executed by the federal government since July, has spent more than half of his life in the death row. Although several of his conspiratorial accomplices, under the age of 18, had received prison sentences, Mr. Bernard, a legal adult at the time of the crime, was eligible for the federal death penalty.
In his final days, supporters of Mr. Bernard, now 40, pleaded with President Trump for clemency. As a teenager at the time of the murders, his case rekindled questions about the imposition of the death penalty on young inmates convicted of violent crimes.
Mr Bernard was the second federal inmate to be executed since Election Day and one of six to be executed by the Trump administration during the lame period before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. entered in office next month. Breaking with Mr Trump, Mr Biden has said he will work to end the federal death penalty.
Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, who were members of Mr. Trump’s defense team during his impeachment trial, formally joined Mr. Bernard’s defense team on Thursday and asked the Supreme Court to delay his execution.
In an interview, Mr. Dershowitz said he pleaded with the White House on behalf of Mr. Bernard. In the end, the president refused to act.
The Supreme Court also rejected Mr Bernard’s suspension request on Thursday, with the three most liberal judges indicating they would have granted the suspension.
Supporters had sent hundreds of thousands of letters to Mr. Trump calling for mercy on Mr. Bernard, his defense team said Thursday afternoon. Kim Kardashian West, who successfully pressured Mr. Trump for leniency in another case, publicly called the president to spare Mr. Bernard’s life.
Mr Bernard was convicted and executed for his role in the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley, two youth ministers visiting Texas from Iowa. Mr Bagley agreed to lead the young men who approached him, according to testimony in the case. Three men got into the car, but after one of the three gave Mr. Bagley instructions, they fired two guns at the Bagleys, stole them and forced them into the trunk. At this point, Mr. Bernard had separated from the group.
The alleged crime boss, Christopher Vialva, then 19, insisted the young men needed to kill the Bagleys. After Mr. Bernard and another accomplice bought lighter fluid, four of the young men drove in two cars to a secluded area at Fort Hood military base with the victims.
Mr. Bernard and Terry Brown, then 17, poured lighter fluid on the interior of the car and Mr. Vialva shot the victims with Mr. Bernard’s pistol, killing Mr. Bagley and leaving Ms. Bagley unconscious, the Justice Department said. Mr. Bernard set the car on fire.
The government executed Mr. Vialva in September. But Mr Brown and another man implicated in the crimes have been released from federal prison, and another accomplice is expected to be released in 2030, according to a Bureau of Prisons database. Each of the three, aged 15 to 17 at the time of the crime, was not eligible for capital punishment under federal death penalty law.
The Supreme Court later ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional for those under 18 at the time of their offense. Supporters of Mr. Bernard argued the court ignored his youth. Critics of the death penalty have said that setting 18 as the age at which an accused can be sentenced to death is arbitrary.
Despite his defense claims that the government had suppressed evidence that would have altered the calculation of Mr. Bernard’s sentence, the courts have rejected his requests for a stay of execution. His lawyers criticized the government case and pointed to testimony that suggested Mr. Bernard held the lowest level of authority in the gang that the government claimed he and other accomplices were affiliated with.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that if the prosecution had not accepted the evidence and knowingly obtained false testimony as asserted by Mr. Bernard, there is a reasonable probability that it would not have been sentenced to death. She also argued that an appeals court which dismissed Mr. Bernard’s petition in a testimony-related case “was wrong” and demanded an overly strict standard that “perversely rewards the government for withholding information. secret discharge ”.
“Bernard never had the opportunity to test the merits of these claims in court,” she wrote. “Now he will never do it again.
On Friday, the Ministry of Justice intends to execute Alfred Bourgeois. Mr. Bourgeois, 56, was sentenced to death in 2004 for the murder of his daughter. The department said he had abused, tortured and beaten her to death. His execution was slated for January 2020, but the previous month, the Supreme Court issued a lower court ruling that barred the government from doing so.
While the government intends to carry out the next four scheduled executions, the coronavirus continues to ravage the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, where the executions are expected to take place. The Prison Bureau reported that hundreds of inmates there tested positive.
After Orlando Cordia Hall was put to death in November, members of the execution team tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a court that filed a lawsuit to delay the executions. In a statement, Rick Winter, regional adviser for the north-central region of the Bureau of Prisons, said five of those who tested positive intended to travel to Terre Haute for the December executions.