The federal government executed Brandon Bernard on Thursday night after the Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal despite pleas from celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
Bernard, 40, received a lethal injection of phenobarbital at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when the crime occurred.
He was declared dead at 9.27pm as witnesses watched from behind a glass barrier.
In his final words, Bernard address the family of his victims Todd and Stacie Bagley, telling them ‘I’m sorry’.
‘I’m sorry. That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day,’ he added.
Bernard was 18 when he and four other teenagers abducted and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way from a Sunday service in Killeen, Texas, in 1999. The couple were shot and killed and then their car was set on fire.
Bernard, 40, on Thursday received a lethal injection as planned at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when the crime occurred
Throughout Thursday, there was a growing groundswell by celebrities including Kim Kardashian who were pushing for the execution to be halted, as pictured above
The appeal was denied on Thursday allowing the execution to take place immediately
The execution was delayed from 6pm after Bernard’s legal team pushed a final appeal but it was dismissed by the Supreme Court and allowed to proceed.
Bernard’s lawyers called his execution a ‘stain on America’s criminal justice system’ as they claimed he ‘never stopped feeling shame and profound remorse’ for his crime.
As the Supreme Court decision was announced, they made a statement stating that ‘those who love Brandon’ are filled with ‘righteous anger and deep sadness at the actions of the federal government in taking his life’.
‘Brandon made one terrible mistake at age 18. But he did not kill anyone, and he never stopped feeling shame and profound remorse for his actions in the crime,’ added attorney Robert C. Owen.
‘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 young black men who pose no threat to anyone.’
President Trump could still have granted Bernard clemency to halt the execution.
He was the ninth federal inmate put to death since July, when President Donald Trump ended a 17-year hiatus in federal executions.
Bernard, pictured in 2016, has shown remorse for his crime aged 18
Throughout Thursday, there was a growing groundswell by celebrities including Kim Kardashian who were pushing for the execution to be halted.
And a little more than an hour before the execution was scheduled, Bernard´s lawyers filed papers with the Supreme Court seeking to have it halted.
The legal team also expanded to include two very high-profile attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr.
Dershowitz is the retired Harvard law professor who was part of Donald Trump´s impeachment defense team and whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Mike Tyson, while Starr also defended Trump during the impeachment and is most famous as an independent counsel who led the investigation into Bill Clinton.
Kardashian on Thursday led a countdown to Bernard’s execution saying in a series of recent tweets that his ‘role was minor compared to that of the other teens involved.’
She said that she spoke to him as his execution time approached calling it the ‘hardest call I’ve ever had’ but that she still remained hopeful that the outcome could be changed.
‘Just spoke to Brandon for what will likely be the last time. Hardest call I’ve ever had. 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,’ she wrote.
Kardashian said that she spoke to him as his execution time approached calling it the ‘hardest call I’ve ever had’ but that she still remained hopeful that the outcome could be changed
She had led the groundswell of celebrities calling for the execution to be halted
‘When he told me he’s claustrophobic and they offered to give him a shot of Sedative to calm him down before they put him in the chair and he just didn’t want to panic, I literally lost it. I had to mute my phone so he wouldn’t hear me cry like that,’ the reality TV star added.
‘We didn’t say goodbye bc we wanted to be hopeful that we would talk again, we said talk to you soon!’
Defense attorneys have argued in court and in a petition for clemency from Trump that Bernard was a low-ranking, subservient member of the group that killed the Bagleys, a religious couple from Iowa.
They say both Bagleys were likely dead before Bernard doused their car with lighter fluid and set it on fire, a claim that conflicts with government testimony at trial. Bernard, they say, has repeatedly expressed remorse.
‘I can’t imagine how they feel about losing their family,’ Bernard said about surviving Bagley relatives in a 2016 video statement from death row. ‘I wish that we could all go back and change it.’
He also described taking part in youth outreach programs and embracing religion, saying, ‘I have tried to be a better person since that day.’
Bernard and accomplice Christopher Vialva were sentenced to death in 2000 after a jury found them guilty of carjacking and murdering Todd and Stacie Bagley (above), married Christian youth ministers from Iowa, on the Fort Hood army base in Texas the previous year
The case has prompted calls for Trump to intervene, including from one prosecutor at his 2000 trial who now says racial bias may have influenced the nearly all-white jury’s imposition of a death sentence against Bernard, who is black.
Several jurors have also since said publicly that they regret not opting for life in prison instead.
The Justice Department refused to delay Thursday’s execution of Bernard, another inmate on Friday and three more in January, even after eight officials who participated in an execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus.
The eight federal executions in 2020 already is more than in the previous 56 years combined.
The Trump administration is planning four more federal executions before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Federal executions during a presidential transfer of power also are rare, especially during a transition from a death-penalty proponent to a president-elect like Biden opposed to capital punishment.
The last time executions occurred in a lame-duck period was during the presidency of Grover Cleveland in the 1890s.