The US carries out a uncommon execution throughout the presidential change – WSVN 7News | St John Information, Climate, Sports activities
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) – The Trump administration carried out its ninth federal execution on Thursday in a first series of executions during a president’s lame duck period in 130 years, killing a Texas street gang member in the killings of a religious couple from Iowa more than two decades ago.
Four more federal executions are scheduled, including a Friday, in the weeks leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. One was done in late November.
The case of Brandon Bernard, receiving a lethal injection of phenobarbital in a U.S. prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, was a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when his crime was committed.
Several high-profile personalities, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, had appealed to President Donald Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence into life imprisonment.
Bernard, 40, was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. Eastern Time when witnesses watched from behind a glass barrier separating them from a bright green death chamber.
He made his last words to the family of the couple he was involved in killing, speaking with striking calm for someone who knew he was about to die.
“I’m sorry,” he said, lifting 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 spoke clearly and naturally. Speaking for more than three minutes, he said he had waited for this opportunity to say he was sorry – not only to the victims’ families, but also because of the pain he was causing his own family.
Regarding his role in the killing, he said, “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t.”
Bernard was 18 years old when he and four other teenagers kidnapped and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way from a Sunday service in Killeen, Texas, during which Bernard doused their car with lighter fluid and set it on fire with their bodies in the back trunk sat.
Federal executions were resumed by Trump in July after a 17-year hiatus despite the coronavirus outbreak in U.S. prisons.
Todd Bagley, Georgia, mother spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of the execution and said she wanted to thank Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and others at the Justice Department.
“Without this process,” she said, reading from a statement, “my family wouldn’t have the closure needed to get on with life.” She called the murders a “pointless act of unnecessary evil”.
But she stopped reading the prepared text and got emotional when she spoke about the apologies from Bernard before he died on Friday and from an accomplice, Christopher Vialva, the group’s ringleader, who put the Bagleys in the head shot before the car was burned. He was executed in September.
“The apology and remorse … have helped me a lot in healing my heart,” she said, started crying and then put herself back together. “I can say a lot: I forgive them.”
Formerly in the death chamber, Bernard lay on a cross-shaped stretcher with infusion lines running through its arms. He looked back when a US Marshal picked up a phone and asked if there were any reasons not to continue. Bernard reacted calmly when the Marshall hung up and said the execution could continue.
Bernard did not show the labored breathing and constant twitching of others who had previously been executed. A minute after the fatal injection, his eyes slowly closed and he barely moved.
About 20 minutes later, faint white spots appeared on his skin and someone went in through a chamber door, listened to his heart, felt for a pulse, and then went out. Seconds later, an officer said Bernard was dead.
Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old truck driver from Louisiana, will die Friday after killing his 2-year-old daughter by repeatedly banging her head on the windows and dashboard of a truck. Bourgeois lawyers alleged he was mentally retarded and therefore unsuitable for the death penalty, but several courts said evidence did not support this claim.
Before Bernard was executed, Kardashian West tweeted that she had spoken to him beforehand: “The toughest call I’ve ever had. Brandon, selfless as always, focused on his family and made sure they were okay. He told me not to cry because our fight isn’t over yet. “
Just before the execution was scheduled, Bernard’s attorneys filed documents with the Supreme Court to stop the execution, but the Supreme Court denied the request and paved the way for further execution.
Bernard had crocheted in prison and even started a crochet group on death row where inmates shared patterns for making sweaters, blankets and hats, said Ashley Kincaid Eve, an anti-capitalist activist.
Federal executions during a presidential transfer of power are also rare, especially during a transition from an advocate of the death penalty to an elected president like Biden against the death penalty. The last time executions took place during a lame duck era was when Grover Cleveland was president in the 1890s.
Defense attorneys have argued in court and in a pardon from Trump that Bernard was a low-ranking member of the group. They say both Bagleys were likely dead before Bernard set the car on fire, a claim that contradicts government statements.
The case prompted Trump to intervene, including from a prosecutor in his 2000 trial who now says racial prejudice may have influenced the death sentence on Bernard, who is black, by the almost exclusively white jury. Meanwhile, several jurors have also publicly stated that they regret not having opted for a life in prison instead.
The teens approached the Bagleys on the afternoon of June 21, 1999 and asked them for an elevator after stopping at a supermarket – all the while planning to rob the couple. After the Bagleys agreed, Vialva, the oldest of the group at 19, pulled a gun and forced it into the trunk.
The Bagleys, both in their twenties, spoke through an opening in the back seat and urged their captors to accept Jesus as they drove around for hours trying to use the Bagleys’ ATM cards. After the teenagers pulled to the side of the road, Vialva went back and shot the Bagleys in the head.
The central question in the decision to sentence Bernard to death was whether Vialva’s shots or the fire that Bernard started killed the Bagleys.
Study evidence showed that Todd Bagley likely died instantly. But a government expert said Stacie Bagley had soot in her airways, indicating smoke inhalation rather than the shot that killed her. Defense attorneys have said the claim has not been proven. They also said Bernard believed both Bagleys were dead and feared the consequences if he refused senior Vialva’s order to burn the car to destroy evidence.
The first series of federal executions that summer consisted 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 become the first female inmate in nearly six decades to be executed by the federal government.
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