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U.S. Executes Brandon Bernard After Supreme Court Denies Stay

Brandon Bernard became the ninth person to be put to death by the federal government this year. He was executed late Thursday after serving more than 20 years in prison.
Stacey Brownstein
Brandon Bernard became the ninth person to be put to death by the federal government this year. He was executed late Thursday after serving more than 20 years in prison.

Brandon Bernard, convicted for his involvement in the brutal murder of two youth ministers in 1999, was executed Thursday evening after failed eleventh-hour appeals from criminal justice advocates and celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, to spare his life.

He was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. from a lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Bernard, 40, served more than 20 years behind bars for his involvement in the kidnapping, robbery, and fatal shooting of Todd and Stacie Bagley. His death marks the ninth execution by the federal government this year after the process was resumed following a 17-year break.

With his last words, Bernard spoke to the family of the couple he killed, according to The Associated Press. He said, "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."

Todd's mother, Georgia Bagley, told reporters that the apologies of Bernard and the shooter, Christopher Vialva, who was put to death in September, "helped very much to heal my heart." She said she forgave them.

The execution was the first in 130 years to be carried out during a presidential transition period. According to CNN, Bernard, whose crime was committed at age 18, is also the youngest person in the U.S. to receive a death sentence in nearly 70 years.

Support for Bernard

Bernard's attorney Robert Owens sought a review of the case after the discovery of previously undisclosed evidence. Owens argued that trial prosecutors withheld evidence that showed Bernard had a low-level position in the gang that committed the murders, according to The Indianapolis Star.

Former jurors involved in the case had come forward in recent weeks to say that had that evidence been presented during the trial, it would have had an impact on their decision, CNN reports.

Angela Moore, the former federal prosecutor involved in the case, wrote in November in an op-ed that she believes Bernard should not be put to death, citing his youth at the time of the murder and his good behavior while in prison.

"I always took pride in representing the United States as a federal prosecutor, and I think executing Brandon would be a terrible stain on the nation's honor," she wrote.

High-powered attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr and Kardashian West, a reality star, attempted to stop the execution this week. Dershowitz and Starr joined Bernard's legal team on Thursday and submitted a petition with the Supreme Court requesting a delay in the execution for two weeks.

The Supreme Court denied the request.

Kardashian West was using her platform to raise awareness of Bernard's case. She has been involved in criminal justice advocacy since 2018 when she aided in the release of Alice Marie Johnson. Johnson was serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offence before she was pardoned by President Trump.

Without success, Kardashian West also appealed to Trump to commute Bernard's sentence.

In a tweet following his execution, Kardashian West said of Bernard: "He was such a reformed person. So hopeful and positive until the end. More importantly he is sorry, so sorry for the hurt and pain he has caused others."

The crime

Todd and Stacie Bagley were on their way back from a church service in Killeen, Texas, the night of their murder on June 21, 1999. They stopped at a convenience store where they came across Bernard and his friends who asked the couple for a ride home.

Once the couple agreed, Vialva produced a gun and ordered them into the trunk of their car. The group then drove around for several hours attempting to use the couple's ATM cards and pawn Stacie's wedding ring, according to the Justice Department.

The group eventually pulled off to the side of the road. Vialva got out of the car, walked to the trunk, and shot the couple in the head. With the Bagleys still in the trunk, Bernard lit the car on fire.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Stacie didn't die from the gunshot, but rather through smoke inhalation. That claim has been challenged by defense attorneys, but the Justice Department still maintains Stacie died from the fire.

The White House plans to carry out four more federal executions before Trump leaves office in January, making a total of 13 since the process resumed over the summer.

Another inmate is set to be executed Friday. Alfred Bourgeois is scheduled to be put to death for the torture and murder of this two-year-old daughter in 2002.

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Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.