In a resurgence of the federal death penalty at the end of President Donald Trump's tenure, Brandon Bernard was executed on Thursday at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Bernard, 40, was given the lethal injection in the federal death chamber and was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. He was the youngest person in the United States to receive a death sentence in nearly 70 years for a crime he committed when he was just 18 years old.
The execution took place despite pleas for a commutation from former jurors, criminal justice advocates, and celebrities. Bernard, was the ninth federal inmate to be put to death this year.
What was Bernard Convicted of?
Bernard was one of five gang members who robbed and abducted Todd and Stacie Bagley, two youth ministers, on a Texas military reservation in 1999. The couple was then locked in the trunk of their car, when one of Bernard's accomplices, Christopher Vialva, shot both victims in the head, killing Todd instantly. Bernard then set fire to the trunk.
Vialva was executed for his role in the murders in September this year. Bernard was convicted in 2000 on murder charges and sentenced to death after prosecutors told the jury that Stacie died as a result of the fire set by Bernard.
Medical Examiner Reveals Stacie Was Dead Before the Fire
However, after the trial, an independent medical examiner hired by the defense determined that Stacie was "medically dead" before the fire.
When his legal team filed a stay of execution in November, they alleged the government withheld evidence that could have influenced the jury into sentencing Bernard to life in prison instead. Five out of the nine surviving jurors, including jury foreperson Calvin Kruger, said they would change the sentence to life in prison rather than capital punishment in the wake of the new information.
Angela Moore, A former prosecutor who challenged Bernard's appeal of his death verdict recently said she did not believe he should have been put to death, in part, because he was a teenage offender and has become a model prisoner.
Last-Min Stay Plea Denied by Supreme Court, Trump
Bernard's legal counsel, who added Harvard Law school professor Alan Dershowitz and former independent counsel Ken Starr to the team, filed a petition with the Supreme Court late on Thursday requesting the court to delay the execution for two weeks so they could get up to speed on Bernard's case. However, their request was denied.
The court's decision left them with one last hope - Trump. The president was made aware of the case by activists and celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, but chose not to intervene, according to a source familiar with the matter, CNN reported. The source revealed that Trump was "unmoved" because of the violent nature of the crime and backed Attorney General William Barr in his push to complete federal executions before his term ends next month.
Aside from Bernard's case, the federal government has scheduled four more executions, including one Friday. All involve Black men except for the case of Lisa Montgomery, who is set to die next month and would be the first woman in nearly 70 years to be executed by the federal government.
Kim Kardashian West, who has championed criminal justice causes, asked millions of her followers on social media this week to appeal to President Donald Trump to commute Bernard's sentence. She tweeted Thursday: "Just spoke to Brandon for what will likely be the last time. Hardest call I've ever had." She added that she was in tears.
After Bernard was executed, Kardashian West tweeted again. "I'm so messed up right now," she wrote. "They killed Brandon. He was such a reformed person. So hopeful and positive until the end. More importantly he is sorry, so sorry for the hurt and pain he has caused others."
Bernard's Last Words: 'I'm Sorry'
Moments before his death, Bernard apologized to the Bagley family. "I'm sorry," he said. "That's the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day."
"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," Bernard's attorney Robert Owens said in a statement.