As the Trump administration’s Department of Justice prepares to execute Brandon Bernard on Thursday for participating in the 1999 gang killing of a couple when he was 18 years old, calls are intensifying from various corners for the commutation of his death sentence.
Bernard, now 40, is scheduled to be executed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana by lethal injection sometime Thursday after spending half of his life on death row. None of Bernard’s numerous appeals against his death sentence conviction in 2000 for the deaths of Todd and Stacie Bagley have been successful, and his execution is one of five that the Trump administration has scheduled to take place before President-elect Biden’s inauguration January—breaking with tradition during a presidential transition period.
In the hours that remain before Bernard’s execution, which falls on Human Rights Day, members of Congress and the general public have issued urgent appeals for Bernard’s death sentence to be commuted.
“Although there are many tragic layers to Brandon’s story, they were regrettably not presented at his trial back in 2000,” wrote Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley in an op-ed for The Appeal on Thursday, in which she says the pain of the injustice suffered by the family of those who were murdered will not be solved by more injustice.
More from Pressley’s op-ed:
“The jury was not informed that at the time of the crime, it was well established that the juvenile brain is still developing well into a person’s 20s, with neuroscientists estimating that for men, that age is 26. Although all five teens involved in the crime were Black, 11 of the 12 jurors were white. This, coupled with the misleading and incomplete information the jury was given about Brandon’s life, deprived him of a fair trial and sentencing hearing.
“Despite the numerous shortcomings in Brandon’s legal representation at trial, the absence of even a single disciplinary write-up, and his decades of youth outreach work from behind the wall, Brandon is just hours away from being killed, the latest name on the list of people the Trump Administration has cruelly and unjustly scheduled for death in the waning days of this Administration.”
More than 410,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Bernard to be taken off of death row. And as The Root has previously reported, five of the jurors who initially supported the death penalty for Bernard at his sentencing now say they want his execution to be stayed. The prosecutor who helped put him on death row has also joined the calls for his life to be saved.
Senators Cory Booker and Dick Durbin issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the president to commute Bernard’s death sentence.
“Since he was sentenced to death, new evidence has come to light and a number of deficiencies in his initial defense have been exposed,” said Booker and Durbin. “We know that the death penalty in the United States is fatally flawed in its imposition and is disproportionately imposed based on race.”
Kim Kardashian-West, who was successful in appealing to Trump for the commutation of a life sentence for Alice Johnson, a Black woman, in 2018, has also spent this week issuing public calls to the president to save Bernard’s life.
“Having gotten to know Brandon, I am heartbroken about this execution,” she tweeted at Trump on Wednesday, asking that he allow Bernard to live out his sentence in prison.
President-elect Biden has indicated his plans to eliminate the federal death penalty in favor of life sentences with no probation or parole. But in the case of Brandon Bernard’s life, it remains up to President Trump to have an eleventh-hour change of heart and reverse the decision to condemn him to death. You can send your own appeal to the president at HelpSaveBrandon.com, a website set up by Bernard’s defense team.