A federal judge has refused to delay the execution of death row inmate Brandon Bernard after several of the jurors who sentenced him to die expressed regret and asked President Donald Trump to grant clemency.
According to the Washington Times, U.S. District Judge James R. Sweeney ruled on Tuesday that the government can proceed with the killing, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 10, at a Terre Haute, Indiana, federal prison.
In the 14-page order, Judge Sweeney wrote, “The purported newly available evidence would not have undermined a crucial aspect of the government’s case for sentencing Mr. Bernard to death.”
If the execution moves forward as planned, Bernard, 40, would be the ninth incarcerated person put to death by lethal injection since the Justice Department reinstated capital punishment in July, resuming the practice after a 17-year hiatus.
Critics of the policy change have condemned the Trump administration for rushing to carry out death sentences after the Nov. 3 election, which the president has not conceded. They point out that Joe Biden said he would push to eliminate federal executions if elected. Bernard is one of five death row prisoners scheduled to die before Inauguration Day.
However, five of the nine surviving jurors who voted to impose the death penalty on Bernard two decades ago now say their decision should be overturned.
A federal inmate named Brandon Bernard is scheduled to be executed next week for a 1999 double murder. Bernard is now seeking clemency, as new details emerge about his case.@DavidBegnaud spoke to a juror about why he regrets sentencing a teenager to death. pic.twitter.com/icAnx843vQ
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) December 3, 2020
“I had misgivings from the beginning,” said Gary McClung, who served on the jury, in a recent telephone interview with Reuters. “I just didn’t stand for my convictions as I should have initially during the trial, and that’s something that has weighed on my conscience for a good while.”
As Reuters previously reported:
At trial in 2000, a jury found Brandon Bernard and an accomplice, Christopher Vialva, guilty of carjacking and murdering Todd and Stacie Bagley, married Christian youth ministers from Iowa, on the Fort Hood army base in Texas the previous year. …
Bernard’s lawyers say information showing that Bernard held a lowly position in the gang that killed the Bagleys was not presented to the jury, and that he was not present when the Bagleys were abducted by Vialva and forced into the trunk of their car. Later, after Vialva, who was 19 at the time, shot the couple in the trunk, Bernard followed Vialva’s orders to set the car on fire, according to trial records.
While all five jurors still agree that both Bernard and Vialva were guilty, they said that Bernard did not seem to have intended to kill the Bagleys. His execution is set for Dec. 10.
The actions of Bernard and Vialva warranted federal charges because the incident occurred on the grounds of a U.S. military base.
Vialva was executed by lethal injection on September 24. The mother of Todd Bagley, Georgia Bailey, said his death brought closure and justice. Attorney General William Barr has maintained the government has a duty to carry out the punishments.
Still, as UPI reports, “defense lawyers said Bernard believed he was called to help dispose of the Bagley’s vehicles and let them go free.”
In a clemency petition filed last month, McClung and four other jurors asked President Trump to commute Bernard’s death sentence to life in prison without the possibility for parole. The document emphasizes that Bernard was 18 years old at the time and “barely met the legal age requirement for a capital prosecution.” Jury foreman Calvin Kruger said Bernard had inadequate legal representation during the trial.
“I do not believe that Brandon should be executed for bad choices he made when he was 18,” Kruger said in the petition.
Kim Kardashian West recently asked her massive social media following to “let President Trump know that you think Brandon’s death sentence is unjust,” linking to a website set up on his behalf.
“First, I want to say that a terrible crime was committed and me fighting for a stay of execution does not take away from the sympathy I have for the victims, Todd and Stacie Bagley, and their families,” she wrote in a series of tweets.
While Brandon did participate in this crime, his role was minor compared to that of the other teens involved, two of whom are home from prison now.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 29, 2020
As The Daily Wire previously reported, death row inmates Alfred Bourgeois, Cory Johnson, and Dustin John Higgs are also scheduled to be put to death before January 20, along with Lisa Montgomery, who would be the first woman executed by the U.S. government in almost 70 years.
All federal executions take place at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Last month, the Justice Department changed its protocols to expand possible execution methods to include electrocution, gas, and firing squads.
“I think the way to stop the death penalty is to repeal the death penalty,” said Attorney General Barr in a recent interview with the AP. “But if you ask juries to impose and juries impose it, then it should be carried out.”