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Brandon Bernard executed after appeal denied by Supreme Court

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Brandon Bernard with family

The case of Brandon Bernard gained traction over the past several months when death penalties were beginning to be carried out for the first time in over a decade. There are several executions the Trump administration are rushing to carry out before joe Biden takes office in January and Brandon Bernard is the second who was involved in the same crime. In 1999, Bernard was indicted for killing Stacie and Todd Bagley, two missionaries in Iowa. Bernard was part of a gang who abducted the Bagleys, they were then shot by Christopher Vialva in the trunk of their own car and Bernard set the car on fire. There were five members involved in the murders; Vialva was executed in September and now Bernard in December, the other suspects got off on lighter sentences.

Bernard was only 18 when the crime was committed and he spent 32 years in prison as a model prisoner. Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center Robert Dunham has stated that executions pose a high risk of spreading COVID-19 and all executions should be postponed until there is a hold on the pandemic. "The decision to move forward with all these super spreader events in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed a quarter of a million Americans is historically unprecedented." He said. 

Chief Judge Magnus-Stinson denied a preliminary injunction to halt the five upcoming executions based on the spread of the coronavirus in the Terre haute federal prison. Two attorneys filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of Indiana Terre Haute Division because they are concerned about their clients who are at high risk for catching COVID-19 but the judge allowed executions to take place anyway. On November 19, Orlando Hall was put to death and up to 125 people entered the facility for an execution. Since, six members of the execution team along with over a dozen staff members at Terre Haute have contracted the coronavirus. According to a motion filed, "Another inmate from FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) Terre Haute (where plaintiffs are housed) died from COVID-19 this week, one or more additional inmates appear to have recently died from USP Terre Haute, and the number of positive cases at the FCC (Federal Correctional Center) Terre Haute now stands at 326 as of December 8, up from 264 on Dec 7 and 202 on Dec 4."

On Wednesday, December 9, a lower court judge denied the motion for a stay of execution for Bernard. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals also denied an emergency motion along with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr are attorneys who joined Bernard's legal team just mere hours before he was set to be executed. The duo was recently in the spotlight for their defense of President Donald Trump earlier this year during his impeachment process. they filed a petition for a stay of execution for two weeks so they could get caught up on Bernard's case but the petition was denied by the Supreme Court, three Supreme Court justices issued public dissents.

Terre Haute Prison

Bernard's last chance was president Trump. His 16-year-old daughter had advocated for her father's life, stating that he was constantly telling her to stay away from the wrong people and how one bad decision can destroy your life, "I am hoping and asking the president to spare my dad's life." She said. His daughter was not the only one calling upon Trump to help. Kim Kardashian West called for Trump to grant a commutation for Bernard and voiced her disappointment on Twitter when nothing was done. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson asked the President to commute the sentences and pardon the inmates set for execution. According to a source close to Trump the President was not swayed to help due to the violent nature of the murders.

Robert Owens, Bernard's attorney, said, "Brandon's execution is a stain on America's criminal justice system. But I pray that even in his death, Brandon will advance his commitment to helping others by moving us closer to a time when this country does not pointlessly and maliciously kill young black men who pose no threat to anyone."

Owens was attempting to get a hearing based on new evidence that was not presented at Bernard's trial. During the appeal, he said that it was revealed trial prosecutors had deliberately withheld evidence that would show Brandon had a lesser role in the crime. This evidence was discovered during a 2018 resentencing hearing for another co-defendant. "Procedural barriers have prevented him (Bernard) from obtaining a hearing on the merits of his claim... By denying a stay of execution to Brandon Bernard the court will allow the government to evade responsibility for hiding critical evidence that would have changed the outcome of Brandon's sentencing."

During Bernard's execution he apologized to the family of the Bagleys and to his own family for the pain he caused. During his three minute last words Brandon said, "I'm sorry... I wish I could take it all back, but I can't... That's the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day."

Georgia Bagley, Todd's mother, wrote, "It has been very difficult to wait 21 years for the sentence that was imposed by the judge and jury on those who cruelly participated in the destruction of our children, to be finally completed." Within 30 minutes she emotionally spoke to reporters, "The apology and remorse... helped very much heal my heart... I can very much say: I forgive them." Bernard was 40-years old when he was put to death."

Todd and Stacie Bagley