U.S. set to execute Brandon Bernard despite

(NY DAILY NEWS) – The Justice Department is set to execute a Texas gang member Thursday despite numerous pleas from anti-death penalty activists, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian.

Brandon Bernard, who was only 18 at the time of the crime, was one of five teens involved in the 1999 killings of an Iowa religious couple whose bodies he burned in the trunk of a car. But his attorneys claim he was a low-ranking member of the street gang and set the victims’ vehicle on fire after they were likely dead.

Bernard’s last-minute clemency petition, which has been denied, also argues that racial bias may have played a role in his conviction and sentencing. A prosecutor involved in the Black man’s trial and several members of the nearly all-white jury have since publicly opposed his execution.

Kardashian repeatedly asked President Trump to intervene and shared a series of tweets about his case this week.

This August 2016 photo provided by the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington shows Brandon Bernard.
This August 2016 photo provided by the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington shows Brandon Bernard. (Stacey Brownstein/Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington via AP)

“Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old father is going to be executed tomorrow by our federal government,” she wrote Wednesday night. “Having gotten to know Brandon, I am heartbroken about this execution. I’m calling on @realDonaldTrump to grant Brandon a commutation and allow him to live out his sentence in prison.”

She posted an update Thursday afternoon saying an emergency motion for an execution stay had also been denied.

Bernard’s execution by lethal injection, set to take place in Terre Haute, Indiana, would make him one of the few federal prisoners to be put to death for a crime committed in their teens.

It would also be a rare execution of a federal inmate during an outgoing president’s lame-duck period. The Trump administration plans to execute four more prisoners before President-elect Joe Biden, who opposed capital punishment, takes office next month.

The last time the federal government put an inmate to death in a lame-duck period was during Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the 1890s.
Trump’s Justice Department revived federal executions this summer after a nearly 20-year hiatus despite waning support for the practice in the U.S.

Among the federal inmates put to death in 2020 was one of Bernard’s co-defendant, Christopher Vialva. Prosecutors said Vialva was the ringleader and the one who fired the shot that killed the Bagleys as the couple made their way back from a Sunday service in Killeen, Texas, two decades ago.

The teens asked the victims for a ride as part of a premeditated plan to rob them. Once in the car, Vialva pulled a gun and forced them into the trunk and drove around for hours before shooting them.

Evidence presented at the 2000 trial showed Todd Bagley died instantly, but a government expert said Stacie Bagley died from smoke inhalation and not the gunshot. Defense attorneys argued that assertion wasn’t proven and that Bernard was ordered to burn the car to destroy evidence.
A lawyer representing Bernard told The Associated Press that he was still hopeful this week and “desperately wants to live.”

In a series of tweets Thursday evening, Kardashian described speaking with Bernard on the phone one last time.

“Hardest call I’ve ever had,” she said. “Brandon, selfless as always, was focused on his family and making sure they are ok. He told me not to cry because our fight isn’t over.”

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