The United States federal government has executed Brandon Bernard, a Black man from Texas involved in the 1999 killing of a couple, as appeals across several weeks from advocacy groups, jurors and others for a stay to his execution went unheeded.
Bernard, 40, was given a lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and media witnesses reported his death at 02:32 GMT.
Bernard is the ninth federal inmate who has been executed since July, when US President Donald Trump lifted a 17-year freeze on federal executions – a move that drew condemnation from human rights and civil liberty groups.
Bernard was 18 when he and four other teenagers participated in the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley, a couple on their way from a Sunday church service in Killeen, Texas.
His case drew the attention of anti-death penalty advocates, celebrities and others across the US due to several factors they said should have granted him a stay of execution, including his age when the crime occurred and how race influenced his sentencing.
Bernard’s case has drawn the attention of rights groups, who had appealed to the Trump administration to grant a stay in his execution [Stacey Brownstein/Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington via AP]The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nationwide civil rights group, tweeted before Thursday’s execution that “5 of the 9 jurors who sentenced him to die, as well as the appellate prosecutor who pushed for a death sentence, now do not believe he should die”.
“The federal government should not be allowed to kill Brandon Bernard – or anyone. Tonight’s execution should not go forward,” the group said.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit group, said high-profile US lawyers Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, who both defended Trump in his impeachment case, had joined Bernard’s defence team.
They filed a request on Thursday for a 14-day stay of execution to file additional materials in the case, Dunham said.
Defence lawyers had argued in court and in a petition for clemency that Bernard was a low-ranking, subservient member of the group that killed the Bagleys – and that he has repeatedly expressed remorse.
“I can’t imagine how they feel about losing their family,” Bernard said about surviving Bagley relatives in a 2016 video statement from death row.
“I wish that we could all go back and change it,” said Bernard, describing taking part in youth outreach programmes and embracing religion since the killings happened. “I have tried to be a better person since that day,” he said.
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian was among those who had asked Trump to stop the execution.
She made a last-minute appeal on Thursday, saying she had spoken to Bernard on the phone shortly before his execution.
Just spoke to Brandon for what will likely be the last time. Hardest call I’ve ever had. Brandon, selfless as always, was focused on his family and making sure they are ok. He told me not to cry because our fight isn’t over. 😢
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) December 10, 2020
“Brandon, selfless as always, was focused on his family and making sure they are ok,” she wrote.
“He told me not to cry because our fight isn’t over.”
The Justice Department refused to delay Thursday’s execution of Bernard, however, as well as the execution of another inmate scheduled for Friday and three more in January, even after eight officials who participated in an execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus.
The nine federal executions carried out this year already exceed all those carried out in the previous 56 years combined.
The federal government is set to execute Brandon Bernard tonight, a Black man who was sentenced to death for a crime he committed when he was just 18.
People deserve second chances — especially for mistakes made when they were teenagers.
— ACLU (@ACLU) December 10, 2020