The case drew renewed interest in recent weeks and sparked debate over whether the death penalty is a necessary punishment for someone who was barely a legal adult at the time of the crime. Now 40, he was the youngest person, based on his age when the offense occurred, in nearly seven decades to be executed by the federal government.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for an emergency stay Thursday night, and Bernard was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m.
In the moments before his death, a calm Bernard spoke directly to the family of the couple he killed. “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.”
Bernard’s attorney called the execution “a stain on America’s criminal justice system.”
“Brandon made one terrible mistake at age 18,” attorney Robert C. Owen said. “But he did not kill anyone, and he never stopped feeling shame and profound remorse for his actions in the crime that took the lives of Todd and Stacie Bagley. And he spent the rest of his life sincerely trying to show, as he put it, that he ‘was not that person.'”
Bernard was the ninth person put to death by the federal government this year after the Department of Justice resumed executions in July after a 17-year hiatus on the federal level.
This year, fear over the spread of the coronavirus in prisons has largely led states to put a hold on executions. But the surging number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in recent months have not deterred the federal government from acting in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Bernard’s attorneys on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to temporarily halt his execution while they pursued claims that the prosecution at his trial unconstitutionally withheld evidence that would have led jurors to give him a life sentence. Five jurors have since come forward to attest that they no longer support the death penalty in the case, while a former prosecutor who challenged Bernard’s appeal of his death verdict now says she doesn’t believe he should be put to death, in part, because he was a teenage offender and has become a model prisoner.
“Given that five jurors no longer stand by their death verdict, Brandon must not be executed until the courts have fully addressed the constitutionality of his sentence,” Owen said.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Erik Ortiz