10 December 2020 14:44

Donald Trump Kim Kardashian Capital punishment

Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old father is going to be executed tomorrow by our federal government. On June 13, 2000, a jury of 11 white people and one African-American person at his trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found him and Vialva guilty of carjacking, first-degree murder on a government reservation, aiding and abetting and conspiracy to commit murder. On October 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on December 10, 2020 at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute where Vialva was executed by lethal injection on September 24, 2020. In 2020, five of the nine surviving jurors who sentenced him and Vialva to death for the killings of Todd and Stacie on Fort Hood called on Trump to commute his sentence. During a court hearing on Zoom from death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute on December 2, 2020, federal public defender John Carpenter argued on behalf of him that the U.S. government cannot legally execute him because he has not yet exhausted all of his appeals.

But Brandon Bernard, now 40, is scheduled to be executed on December 10. In a resurgence of the federal death penalty at the end of President Donald Trump's tenure, his administration has scheduled executions this week for two men convicted in separate Texas murders on military property. Brandon Bernard, 40, and Alfred Bourgeois, 56, are set to die in the federal death chamber in Indiana on Thursday and Friday evenings, respectively. The federal executions are set to proceed after eight prison employees who took part in a federal execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus, according to court records. Bernard was 18 when he was sentenced to death for his role in the 1999 carjacking and murders of an Iowa couple on a secluded part of the Fort Hood Army post in Killeen.

Both men have argued to courts that their executions should be stopped: Bernard claims police evidence revealed in 2018 and several jurors' changes of heart about the sentence they imposed should prevent his death, and Bourgeois' attorneys have long insisted he is intellectually disabled and therefore legally ineligible for execution. Under federal death penalty law, federal executions must be carried out in the same manner as in the states where the inmates were sentenced. Since Bernard and Bourgeois were both sentenced to death in Texas federal courts, they argue that means their executions must be set at least 91 days in advance, a requirement in Texas statute that allows time for inmates to ask the governor to delay their executions or change their sentences. The time gap also allows inmates to raise new challenges in court that only become relevant once an execution date is scheduled, like questions of mental competency or the safety of lethal injection drugs. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., acknowledged this week that the government's scheduling timelines violated the federal death penalty law but said that issue wasn't sufficient to halt the executions.

For Bourgeois, a 91-day notice would have meant his execution could not have been scheduled before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he opposes the death penalty. The Trump administration planned to restart federal executions last year, setting five executions starting in December 2019. Since then, seven other men have been put to death in the federal execution chamber, including Bernard's co-defendant, Christopher Vialva, who was executed in September. Bernard and Vialva were tried together in 2000 and sentenced to death for the slaying and robbery of Todd and Stacie Bagley. In his recent appeals, Bernard's attorneys have argued that they discovered in 2018 that prosecutors withheld evidence that indicated Bernard was a low-level member of the gang and therefore less likely to be a potential future danger — which jurors consider when weighing a life sentence or death sentence. The attorneys have also argued that five jurors from his trial no longer stand by their sentence, including one who said Bernard was prejudiced by being tried alongside Vialva. The courts have so far rejected the argument that the newly discovered evidence clears the high bar to halt an execution or overturn a death sentence. Bourgeois' scheduled execution date last year was postponed while the courts further reviewed his claim. An appeals court rejected his petition, though the judges acknowledged that Bourgeois may be deemed intellectually disabled under current medical standards. "We are unwilling to accept Bourgeois's sweeping argument that a fresh intellectual-disability claim arises every time the medical community updates its literature," a three-judge panel on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in an October opinion. Both Bernard and Bourgeois have multiple appeals pending in various federal courts, as well as requests for Trump to halt their executions, which are the last in the nation scheduled for 2020. Kim Kardashian asked Donald Trump to end the scheduled execution of Brandon Bernard, who has become the latest focus of her prison reform advocacy work. "Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old father, is going to be executed tomorrow by our federal government," Kardashian, 40, tweeted on Wednesday. Bernard was convicted at just 18-years-old for his alleged involvement in a robbery that led to the deaths of Todd and Stacie Bagley on the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas in 1999.