Brandon Bernard was executed by lethal injection Thursday at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, despite a flurry of last-minute appeals by his lawyers. He was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m.
Bernard, 40, was convicted in 2000 of two counts of murder and other offenses for his role in the 1999 kidnapping, robbery and murder of a couple in Killeen, Texas. His execution was scheduled in October, just months after the Trump administration ended a 17-year hiatus on federal executions.
“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, one of Bernard’s lawyers, said in a prepared statement. “Brandon’s life mattered. To us, his legal team; to his two beautiful and talented daughters; to his mother, brother, and sister; and to the countless people around the country who came to know him and his story in recent weeks.”
Bernard and four other young men carried out the carjacking and robbery that led to the deaths of Todd and Stacie Bagley, who were in Killeen at the time to see friends and visit a church.
According to court documents, three of the young men forced the Bagleys into the trunk of their car at gunpoint after approaching Todd Bagley to ask for a ride to their uncle’s house. The young men took their valuables and drove around town in the Bagleys’ car, pulling money out of ATMs with Todd Bagley’s debit cards.
Then they drove the vehicle to a remote area on the Fort Hood military base where Christopher Vialva shot both of the victims in the head. Bernard doused the car in lighter fluid and set the vehicle ablaze, according to court documents.
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Bernard was not an architect of the robbery plan, according to court documents. He was 18 at the time.
An initial autopsy revealed that Todd Bagley was killed by a gunshot wound, but Stacie Bagley’s cause of death was listed as smoke inhalation. At trial, Vialva and Bernard were both sentenced to death. Vialva was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 24.
In the days leading up to Bernard’s execution, his lawyers filed a flurry of appeals and requests for a stay of execution.
His lawyers argued that the prosecuting team in Bernard’s original trial withheld an expert witness who attested to Bernard’s low position in the hierarchy of a local gang that the five young men belonged to. That information didn’t come to light until 2018, according to his lawyers.
Owen told the IndyStar of the USA TODAY Network that this would have had an outsized impact on the jury’s verdict because it contradicted other testimony that described the gang as having no real leadership.
Earlier this week, a federal judge in Indiana disagreed.
In his order Tuesday denying to stay Bernard’s execution, Judge James Sweeney of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana wrote that the expert witness’s contribution wasn’t compelling enough to challenge the jurors’ death sentence.
Bernard’s lawyers appealed that decision to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on the same day. They also submitted papers to the U.S. Supreme Court this week requesting that the justices halt Bernard’s execution. Both courts denied the requests Thursday.
Last week, they presented their case to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney and requested that President Donald Trump commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison.
Bernard is the ninth federal prisoner to be executed this year. At the time of his death, an online petition asking Trump to remove Bernard from death row had accumulated over 559,000 signatures. He said and I quote,
“I don’t care, as long as the person is dead by any means necessary.”
Contributing: The Associated Press