Brandon Bernard execution: what crime did the death row inmate commit and why was his death controversial?

Kim Kardashian West was one of the people calling for clemency

People in the US have long been protesting about the death penalty (Getty Images)
People in the US have long been protesting about the death penalty (Getty Images)

Brandon Bernard, a death row inmate, has been executed at a federal prison in Indiana.

The 40-year-old was killed by lethal injection after last-minute requests to delay his execution were rejected by the US Supreme Court.

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Bernard was 18 when he was convicted for his role in the murder of Todd and Stacey Bagley. .

He is the youngest offender to be executed by the federal government in almost seven decades.

Here’s everything you need to know about Brandon Bernard’s execution by the Trump administration.

What was Bernard convicted of?

Bernard was sentenced to the death penalty for taking part in murdering Todd and Stacie Bagley, two Christian youth ministers, in Texas in 1999.

He was one of five youths accused of robbing the religious couple and forcing them into their car boot.

Bernard’s co-defendant, Christopher Vialva, 19, shot the couple when they were in the boot and Bernard set the vehicle on fire.

Both Bernard and Vialva were convicted in 2000 for their involvement in killing the couple, and Vialva was executed in September 2020.

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Defence lawyers said during the trial that the Bagleys probably died from being shot, but government testimony countered that Stacie had soot in her airway which suggested she had died from smoke inhalation from the blaze.

Bernard’s lawyers also said the teenager was scared of what would happen to him if he didn’t do what Vialva told him to do.

The other teenagers involved in the crime were given prison sentences as they were under 18.

What were Bernard’s last words?

Bernard was executed and pronounced dead at 9:27pm (2:27am GMT) on Thursday 10 December, at a penitentiary in Terre Haute.

His execution was held back for more than two hours after his lawyers pleaded with the Supreme Court to delay it.

Bernard's last words were for his victims’ family.

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He said: "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 said, according to the Associated Press.

Why were his legal team trying to delay the execution?

Bernard’s legal team had submitted a request to the Supreme Court that his execution be delayed by two weeks so a petition to save his life could be started.

They argued in court that Bernard was a member of a youth gang and he should be given life in prison without parole, as when in jail he had a good record due to his work with outreach programmes to stop people from committing crime.

The US Supreme Court rejected the request.

One prosecutor at Bernard’s trial in 2000 has said racial bias may have influenced the majority white jury’s vote for a death sentence against Bernard, a black man.

Five of the nine jurors from Bernard’s trial also pleaded for clemency and said they regretted not opting for a life prison sentence instead.

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Activists and lawyers had warned that Bernard shouldn’t be executed, and tens of thousands of people had put pressure on President Trump to grant Bernard clemency.

Two top lawyers who had defended Trump during his impeachment trial in January 2020, Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, joined Bernard’s legal team before his execution.

What was Kim Kardashian’s role?

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West was among the high-profile people calling for Bernard’s execution to be delayed.

She called on her millions of followers to raise awareness of Bernard’s situation before his scheduled execution, saying his role in the murder was “minor compared to that of the other teens involved".

Ms Kardashian West is currently studying to be a lawyer in California and has recently been involved in helping people convicted of crimes.

Earlier in 2020, she visited the White House with three women whose jail terms were cut by President Trump.

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After Bernard was executed, Ms Kardashian West tweeted: "I'm so messed up right now. 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.

"I could go on and on about what an amazing person Brandon was. I do know he left this earth feeling supported and loved and at peace."

How many other criminals are due to be executed?

Bernard’s execution was the ninth federal execution since July, and he was the first during a presidential lame-duck period in 130 years.

Federal executions during the presidential transition period are uncommon, but four more inmates are set to be executed before Joe Biden, who is opposed to capital punishment, takes office on 20 January.

On 11 December, a day after Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois is set to be executed by the federal government for murdering his toddler daughter, after spending the past 17 years on death row.

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And Texas prisoner Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to be executed in January for the 2004 murder of a pregnant woman.

If it goes ahead as planned, she will be the first woman executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years.