Trump Administration To Execute Brandon Bernard And Four Others Before End Of Term 


Joslyn Varkey, Staff Writer

On Thursday, the Trump Administration had scheduled Brandon Bernard’s execution. Bernard is one of five death sentences the administration plans to carry out before leaving office. This decision has sparked significant backlash. Critics and activists argue against capital punishment being used before Biden, who is anti capital punishment, takes office. Three of the five executions are planned for a week before the inauguration. 

Bernard’s situation has even high profile persons advocating for justice. Kim Kardashian West, one of the many prolific individuals opposing this punishment, tweeted about his death and shared a petition which called for his death sentence it be reduced to a life sentence. On Thursday evening, Bernard’s execution time was delayed as his stay request remained pending before the Supreme Court. In 2000, Bernard and Christopher Vialva were charged and convicted of murder for killing two youth ministers, Todd and Stacie Bagley, in 1999. According to court records, a few of their associates asked Todd Bagley for a ride and after his agreement they thrust the couple into the trunk of the car. They then drove them to an isolated area on the military reservation of Fort Hood, Texas. Vialva proceeded to shoot both of them in the head while Bernard burned the car. Todd Bagley died by gunshot while Stacie Bagley died due to smoke inhalation. Bernard was eighteen while Vialva was nineteen. Vialva was executed in September of 2020. 

Bernard’s attorneys have protested saying that his trial was deeply flawed and drew light to the fact that several jurors from the original case now support a commutation of his sentence to life in prison rather than death. They also highlighted that Bernard was a perfect inmate and have requested that the Supreme Court stay his execution. In a public statement, Robert C. Owen, one of Bernard’s attorneys, said that the trial was “marred by the governments concealment of critically important expert opinion and the jury’s consideration of ‘junk science’ testimony deeming Mr. Bernard a ‘continuing threat to society’ despite his lack of any previous record of violence.” While opposing this statement, federal officials noted that Bernard participated in the crime and that the jurors still voted for a death sentence after hearing of his lesser role in the killings than Vialva. The Department of Justice also defended the decision saying that Attorney General William Barr is only following the law in carrying out these death sentences. On Friday, federal officials plan to execute Alfred Bourgeois who killed his two year old daughter. He was convinced in 2004. His attorneys say Bourgeois has an intellectual disability and have also asked the Supreme Court to stay the execution. 

Just last year, Barr announced that the Department of Justice would begin using a new lethal injection protocol when carrying out executions again. Before this, the federal government had not carried out any sentence since 2003. In the United States, lethal injection is still the primary method of execution despite a struggle to obtain the drugs due to opposition from pharmaceutical companies. Barr had originally planned to continue with executions late last year but was met with unexpected court challenges to the new procedure. In July, the Department of Justice carried out three sentences in just four days. This number matched the total number of executions it had performed in the past three decades. The legal challenges included opposition based in the pandemic which has affected some prisons and jail centers. In another challenge, victims’ relatives opposed it saying their lives would be at risk to travel to witness it while spiritual advisors made similar oppositions. 

Another execution planned for this month, the execution of Lisa Montgomery, was stayed after Montgomery’s attorneys said they contracted the virus after traveling to meet with her. They requested a delay and her execution has been stayed until January. Officials have recognized that some individuals who went to the site of federal executions, Terre Haute, Ind., tested positive for the virus after attending the most recent execution. A Federal Bureau of Prisons official, Rick Winter, said eight members of the staff involved in the execution of Orlando Hall tested positive for the virus. In a court filing, Winter stated that six of them tested positive within a week of going home and two others tested positive just after a week after returning home. Five of the staff members who tested positive were supposed to travel back to Terre Haute for the executions set for this week, according to Winter’s official filing on Monday. The two staff members who tested positive recently will not go and a third cannot for personal reasons.