A wave of outrage from human rights groups, activists, elected officials and others over the Thursday night execution of federal inmate Brandon Bernard continued to grow Friday behind a coordinated call for the abolition of the death penalty.
Bernard, 40, was executed by lethal injection in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the United States Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal to stay the execution and Donald Trump did not publicly respond to calls to to intervene.
After 17 years without a federal execution, the Trump administration has executed nine prisoners since July and plans five more executions before Joe Biden takes office on January 20. Biden has vowed to eliminate the death penalty.
Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, sponsor of legislation in the House to end the federal death penalty, tweeted images Thursday night of Bernard speaking from prison. “Abolish the death penalty,” he wrote.
That call was accepted by activists from Pressley’s progressive allies in Congress to Vanita gupta, chair of the leadership conference on civil and human rights.
“Brandon Bernard should be alive today,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted Friday morning. “We must end all federal executions and abolish the death penalty. In a world of incredible violence, the state should not be involved in premeditated murder. “
Sister Helen Prejean, an advocate for the death penalty, said she had spoken to Bernard the day before his death. He “told us everything he was grateful for in his life,” he said. “He died with dignity and love, despite the cruel and unjust system that condemned him to die as a result of flagrant misconduct by the prosecution.”
Prejean called the murder “a stain on all of us.”
Bernard was sentenced for a role in the 1999 Texas murders of an Iowa couple whose bodies he burned in the trunk of his car after an accomplice, Christopher Vialva, shot them.
He directed his last words to the family of Todd and Stacie Bagley, the couple for whom he and Vialva were convicted of killing: “I’m sorry,” he said. “Those are the only words I can say that fully capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
He was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. ET.
“Brandon Bernard was 19 when he committed murder,” tweeted Julián Castro, former Texas Secretary of Housing. “Since then, five jurors and a former prosecutor have said they do not support the death penalty in his case. Brandon will be the ninth person to be executed by the federal government this year. We must put an end to this horrible practice. “
Bernard’s defenders included reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and others believed to have Trump’s ear, including two attorneys who defended Trump at his impeachment this year in the United States Senate and who submitted briefs. on the Supreme Court appeal, Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. .
Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of the execution and said she wanted to thank Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and others at the Justice Department for bringing the family to closure. He was moved when he spoke of Bernard’s apologies before his death and Vialva, who was executed in September.
“The apology and the remorse … did a lot to heal my heart,” she said, starting to cry and then compose herself. “I can say a lot: I forgive you.”
In a statement when executions resumed in July, Barr said the government “owed” the victims to kill the convicts.
“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law, and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry out the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said.
Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old truck driver from Louisiana, will die Friday for killing his two-year-old daughter. Bourgeois’s lawyers alleged that he had an intellectual disability and therefore could not be sentenced to death. Several courts said the evidence did not support that claim.
The first series of federal executions during the summer were of white men, which critics said seemed calculated to make them less controversial amid summer protests of racial profiling.
Four of the five prisoners who are to die before Biden’s inauguration are black men. The fifth is a white woman who would be the first inmate executed by the federal government in nearly six decades.
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