The Trump administration executed 40-year-old Brandon Bernard on Thursday, his punishment for appearing as an confederate to a criminal offense when he was 18 years previous.
The authorities went by with the killing regardless of high-profile opposition from 5 of 9 surviving jurors who sentenced Bernard to dying, the prosecutor who defended his dying sentence on enchantment, several members of Congress, 23 current and former prosecutors, actuality tv star and felony justice reform advocate Kim Kardashian West, and The Washington Post’s editorial board. Hours earlier than the execution, controversial attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr — who labored on President Donald Trump’s authorized workforce throughout his impeachment — joined Bernard’s protection workforce.
Bernard was killed by deadly injection at 9:27 p.m. The Supreme Court denied a last-minute keep of execution for Bernard, with Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
“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.”
Autopsy stories from individuals who have been executed by deadly injection present that the drug used to kill Bernard doubtless causes the person to really feel like they’re suffocating and being waterboarded as they die.
“Tonight, those of us who love Brandon Bernard — and we are many — are full of righteous anger and deep sadness at the actions of the federal government in taking his life,” Robert Owen, Bernard’s lawyer for the previous 20 years, mentioned in an announcement.
“Brandon made one terrible mistake at age 18. But he did not kill anyone, and he never stopped feeling shame and profound remorse for his actions in the crime,” Owen continued. “And he spent the rest of his life sincerely trying to show, as he put it, that he ‘was not that person.’ Brandon showed us that and so much more, carrying himself with grace and generosity, and always treating everyone around him with kindness and respect. He worked to help other troubled kids avoid similar devastating mistakes, and he lived every day his commitment to serving both God and humanity.”
Bernard’s dying marked the Trump administration’s ninth execution because the follow resumed in July, throughout the center of the coronavirus pandemic, after a 17-year hiatus. It is the second execution since Trump misplaced the election to Democrat Joe Biden, who has mentioned he’ll work to finish the dying penalty.
Trump and his lawyer normal, William Barr, are attempting to push by at the very least 4 extra killings earlier than Biden’s inauguration — an effort that exposes the intense arbitrariness of who lives and who dies below the present system. Trump is the primary president in 131 years to hold out a federal execution after dropping reelection. The folks his administration has focused for dying are disproportionately Black.
Since the Trump administration resumed executions in July, coronavirus circumstances have spiked on the jail in Terre Haute, Indiana, the place the killings happen, in addition to in surrounding Vigo County. The federal killings contain “execution teams” of roughly 40 Bureau of Prisons staffers, who often journey in from out of state and work carefully with the workers on the federal jail.
Members of the execution workforce usually are not required to quarantine once they arrive in Indiana or get examined after the killing. After the execution of Orlando Hall final month, at the very least eight members of the execution workforce, in addition to the religious adviser who carried out final rites for Hall, examined optimistic for COVID-19.
Carrying out executions throughout the pandemic places the individuals who reside and work in and across the jail at an elevated danger of contracting the lethal illness. It additionally places the family and friends members of the executed — and the executed’s victims or their households — in a tough state of affairs. In order to bear witness to the killing, they need to put their very own well being in danger.
Owen, Bernard’s lawyer, didn’t attend the execution as a result of he’s in a high-risk group for COVID-19.
Bernard, who’s Black, was sentenced to dying by an almost all-white jury in 2000 for his function in a botched car-jacking that ended within the killing of married couple Todd and Stacie Bagley. Bernard was not current when his associates kidnapped the Bagleys and he was not the one to shoot them useless. Christopher Vialva, the person who shot the Bagleys within the head, was executed in September. Prosecutors claimed Bernard was the one who set the automobile on fireplace with the Bagleys inside, though the federal government’s cooperating witness admitted at trial that he didn’t really see who lit fireplace to the automobile.
At 18 years previous, Bernard was simply barely legally eligible for the dying penalty. The teenagers who participated within the crime and have been below 18 acquired extra lenient sentences, even those that have been extra culpable than Bernard within the Bagleys’ deaths. Two have accomplished their 20-year sentences; a 3rd is serving a 35-year sentence.
Like most people who find themselves sentenced to dying, Bernard couldn’t afford a high-profile lawyer, so he was represented by a court-appointed lawyer with no federal dying penalty expertise who didn’t problem the prosecution’s reliance on junk science and questionable forensic proof.
Over the years, Bernard and his post-conviction authorized workforce unearthed proof that a number of jurors now say would have induced them to make a unique determination had the knowledge been offered at trial.
If the knowledge offered on this report had been offered at trial, I might have made a unique determination at sentencing.
Juror Jason Fuller
Perhaps most critically, Bernard’s post-conviction attorneys employed a medical expert to evaluation the Bagelys’ post-mortem stories and assess the federal government’s declare that Stacie was nonetheless alive after being shot by Vialva. The medical expert, Stephen Pustilnik, concluded that Stacie was “medically dead” after struggling “an unsurvivable gunshot wound that damaged structures of her brain.”
Pustilnik’s findings meant that Stacie would have died even when the automobile she was in had not been set on fireplace — and that she didn’t endure whereas it occurred. “If the information presented in this report had been presented at trial, I would have made a different decision at sentencing,” juror Jason Fuller wrote in a 2016 assertion.
Bernard’s trial attorneys additionally didn’t name on a number of individuals who may have informed jurors about Bernard’s traumatic childhood and his expression of regret instantly after the crime. Instead, jurors heard from self-described “future dangerousness expert” Richard Coons, who testified that anybody concerned in a gang outdoors of jail — as Bernard was — would inevitably be part of the identical gang in jail and turn into more and more violent.
“I’ve read [Coons’] testimony in several cases and it’s always the same. I’ve never read a case where he found that someone was capable of rehabilitation,” mentioned Angela Moore, the previous federal prosecutor who defended Bernard’s sentence on enchantment however now believes he deserves clemency, in an interview. Texas’ highest felony court docket has since discovered that Coons’ claims are unscientific and unreliable.
In 2018, Bernard’s attorneys found that the federal government had withheld data throughout his trial which will have helped his case, a type of prosecutorial misconduct often called a Brady violation. Before the trial, a gang skilled for the federal government decided that Bernard occupied the bottom degree of the gang he was concerned in — a proven fact that contradicted prosecutors’ efforts to depict Bernard as a high-level, harmful gang member. Bernard’s post-conviction attorneys solely discovered about this data as a result of the federal government disclosed it throughout a 2018 resentencing listening to for an additional participant within the crime.
Another juror, Gary McClung Jr., mentioned in an interview that he was uncomfortable sentencing Bernard to dying, even on the time of the trial, however he was hesitant to problem the opposite jurors.
“During the deliberation, there was a lot of strong feelings about it, which is understandable. And just, I don’t know, I guess in the past I’ve had a kind of a struggle standing up when an opinion is different from mine, just standing on what I really believe,” McClung mentioned. “And I regret that now.”
When Bernard’s attorneys contacted McClung to request an announcement for Bernard’s clemency petition, it felt “like it was an answer to a prayer,” he mentioned.
If Bernard had lived, he deliberate to hunt evaluation of the Brady declare from the Supreme Court. He had an April deadline to take action. In the times earlier than his killing, he requested the courts to delay his execution, partially in order that he may have that probability. Every court docket the place he sought aid denied his request.
Bernard’s final meal, delivered to him Wednesday, was meat lover’s pizza and a brownie. He wasn’t certain how pizza from the surface would style — he hadn’t had it in additional than 20 years.
On Thursday, as Bernard waited to see whether or not the courts or the president would enable him to reside, he spoke together with his protection workforce for about three hours. They may hear the concern in his voice and sense that he had misplaced hope. During the decision, they acquired some probably optimistic information, which briefly raised his spirits.
After Bernard was moved to the ability the place the execution chamber is, he had one other quick name with the workforce. He was quiet and scared. A Bureau of Prisons official ended the decision whereas every individual was attempting to say their goodbyes and inform him how a lot they liked and cared about him. They have been grateful they’d already informed him how a lot they liked him throughout the earlier name.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution mentioned Bernard’s final phrases, directed on the household of the victims, have been, “I’m sorry.”
“That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day,” he mentioned.
In written statements, the victims’ relations thanked Trump for executing Bernard. “Please remember that the lives of family and friends were shattered and we all have grieved for 21 years waiting for justice to finally be served,” Todd’s mom, Georgia A. Bagley, wrote.
Bernard by no means grew to become bitter about his state of affairs, Owen mentioned in an interview. “He would like to continue to live. And he would like to continue to be part of his family.”
His household may solely afford to journey to Indiana about annually to go to Bernard, however they stayed shut. During the visits, they have been separated by glass and relations took turns speaking to him by a telephone. He by no means bought to hug his two daughters, who have been born after he was arrested. Even from jail, Bernard discovered methods to be there for his household.
“I have learned a lot about the consequences of my actions from my father. He is very firm with me about making the right choices, staying out of trouble, keeping away from the wrong crowd, and keeping my grades up. He stresses to me how important those things are and how one bad choice could ruin my life,” Bernard’s daughter Taneah Scott wrote in a declaration for his clemency petition when she was 16.
“I have never been able to hug my dad, but mentally and emotionally he is there for me as much as possible. It might not seem like much of a relationship, but it is the best one I have and it is important to me.”
The day earlier than his dying, Bernard appeared “spiritually poised,” anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean said during a livestream on The Appeal, referring to a dialog she had with Bernard. “He has been through, I think, so much suffering and remorse for what he did and he was able to talk yesterday about what he’s grateful for — of the people who have come to his aid.”
“I said to Brandon, ‘Brandon, if you die, along with all these others, perhaps it can help wake up the American people and your death can be redemptive — that we can shut down the death penalty across the nation.’”
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