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The federal government is scheduled to execute Brandon Bernard on Dec. 10 despite calls for clemency. Bernard was just 18 when he was sentenced to die for his involvement in a carjacking gone wrong in 1999 that ended with the murder of Todd and Stacie Bagley in Texas.
Five of the nine surviving jurors who voted to sentence Bernard to death now believe he should be allowed to live, according to HuffPost. Bernard and his attorneys are hoping to avoid execution at least long enough for him to exhaust his appeals.
The 38-year-old sent a clemency petition to President Donald Trump and has filed motions in federal court to stay his execution.
On Dec. 2, Bernard’s federal public John Carpenter argued before a district court judge that the federal government cannot legally execute him because he has not exhausted his appeals, HuffPost reported. Two years ago, Bernard’s attorneys found that the government withheld evidence during his trial that could have helped him. Bernard was denied relief by lower courts but has until April to seek review from the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, his team was delivered a devastating blow when U.S. District Court Judge Alan Albright ruled that Bernard’s execution could move forward as previously planned.
1999 Botched Carjacking
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, who were underaged, 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.
Now, twenty years after the two men were convicted, some of the jurors involved in the sentencing believe Bernard should be spared. One juror, Gary McClung, spoke to The Intercept and said he questioned his decision to sentence the two to death and was “particularly bothered” by sentencing Bernard to death.
After all, Bernard was not present when the couple was abducted and he was not the one who fatally shot them at close range. McClung told The Intercept that he did not understand why Bernard and Vialva were tried together.
McClung got the chance to voice his regret in 2015 when he was contacted by Bernard’s legal team. He was interviewed by two investigators in 2016 as part of a post-conviction investigation.
“I have for a long time wanted, wished for an opportunity like this,” McClung said, according to The Intercept. “I can’t imagine what they’ve [the Bagley family] gone through. I just would not want to see Mr. Bernard, who I don’t believe had any intention of killing anyone, have to die for this.”
His video statement became part of a clemency petition filed with the Obama administration. However, President Barack Obama never acted on the petition.
Trump Administration Resumes Executions
Following a 17-year hiatus, the federal government resumed carrying out the death penalty in July. In September, Vialva became the seventh person executed by the federal government in 2020.
The Trump administration, which will be replaced by the Biden administration on Jan. 20, wants to execute an additional five people incarcerated at Terre Haute before the inauguration. However, there are efforts to stop these executions, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that the executions during the pandemic are not safe for anyone involved. A lawsuit filed in U.S. district court –– Smith v. Barr –– aims to stop the five federal executions scheduled until the inauguration.
The federal government filed a brief over the weekend that revealed that members of its execution team had COVID-19 since the last federal execution on November 19. On that day, Orlando Hall was executed. Hall’s spiritual advisor, Yusuf Our, tested positive for COVID following the execution.
“At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is simply no doubt that these executions spread COVID-19,” Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, said in a statement to The North Star. Stubbs noted that the Bureau of Prisons admitted that staff members traveling to Terre Haute to carry out the executions don’t have the time to quarantine and few have elected to be tested.
“The spread of disease that will occur if the wave of five scheduled executions –– starting Thursday and scheduled until just before inauguration day –– are allowed to take place will have been totally predictable and preventable,” Stubbs continued. “The courts must step in to stop them, protect the people incarcerated at Terre Haute who have no control over the risk the government is subjecting them, and slow the senseless suffering of the American people.”
Learn more: Head to Help Save Brandon to learn more about Brandon’s life and his petition for clemency.
Send a letter to Trump: Brandon’s team is urging everyone to send a letter to the White House to ask the president to commute his sentence to life without parole. You can do that here.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.