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Trump Administration Executes Brandon Bernard On Human Rights Day

Nikki Rojas & Maria Perez
Dec 10, 2020 - 9:33

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Despite thousands petitioning for clemency, the Trump administration executed Brandon Bernard on December 10, 2020, at 9:27 p.m. EST. Bernard, who was just 18 years old at the time of his crimes, was 40 years old.

A last-minute play by several lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, delayed Bernard’s execution time. Reporters at Terre Haute prison, where Bernard is imprisoned, said that the delay signaled “certainly” meant that lawyers were scrambling for a Supreme Court stay or a last-minute commutation from President Donald Trump. 

Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

Moments before he was executed, Brandon’s team tweeted that SCOTUS had denied its petition to halt his execution in a 6-3 vote. 

“Today, the Court allows the Federal Government to execute Brandon Bernard, despite Bernard’s troubling allegations that the Government secured his death sentence by withholding exculpatory evidence and knowingly eliciting false testimony against him,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her desent. “Bernard has never had the opportunity to test the merits of those claims in court. Now he never will.”

Brandon’s lawyer, Robert C. Owen, wrote in a statement that although Brandon made a horrible mistake when he was 18-years-old, “he spent the rest of his life sincerely trying to show, as he put it, that he ‘was not that person.’”

“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 Black men who pose no threat to anyone, when we hold prosecutors to the highest standards of integrity in every case, and when our leaders exercise their moral authority when it is needed,” Owen wrote.

“We were proud to call Brandon our client and friend, and we will miss him greatly.” 

In 1999, Bernard was part of a group of Black teens who participated in a carjacking plot that resulted in the death of a young white couple from Iowa. Most of the teens were tried as juveniles, but 18-year-old Bernard and 19-year-old Christopher Vialva went on trial for the murder. 

Bernard and Vialva were sentenced to death for their roles in the deaths of Todd and Stacie Bagley.

In September, Vialva became the seventh person executed by the federal government in 2020. The Trump administration resumed federal executions in July following a 17-year hiatus. Bernard was among the final five people the Trump administration set to execute in the weeks leading up to the inauguration. 

In the weeks leading up to Bernard’s execution date, several people involved in his sentencing spoke out against plans to execute him. The prosecutor who fought for Bernard’s death sentence and five of the nine surviving jurors who voted to sentence him to death, now believe he should be allowed to live.

Former federal prosecutor Angela Moore, who fought off an appeal by Bernard to have his conviction and sentence overturned, told CBS News that she believed his death sentence should be overturned. 

“Mr. Bernard did not shoot and kill the victims in this case,” Moore said. “He was not the person who planned this robbery gone wrong.” 

This is a developing story and will be updated as more details come in.

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