Trump administration carries out another execution despite appeals, pandemic

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A convicted murderer died by lethal injection on Thursday as the administration of United States (US) President Donald Trump carries out a series of federal executions in its waning days in power, ignoring calls for clemency and COVID-19 outbreaks behind bars.

Brandon Bernard, a 40-year-old African-American inmate, was put to death at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for his role in a 1999 double murder in Texas committed when he was 18 years old.

More than 500,000 people had signed petitions urging Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison, citing his age at the time of the crime and his good behaviour as an inmate.

Among those lending their support to Bernard was reality television star Kim Kardashian.

“At just a few months past 18 his brain was still developing,” Kardashian said. “While Brandon did participate in this crime, his role was minor compared to that of the other teens involved, two of whom are home from prison now.”

Activists talk during a protest against the execution of Brandon Bernard in Terre Haute, Indiana. PHOTO: AP

Bernard and four other Black teenagers were convicted of abducting youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley, a white couple from Iowa. They forced them to withdraw cash before eventually shooting and burning them in their car.

Because the crime took place on a US military base it was tried in federal court.

The shooter, then-19-year-old Christopher Vialva, and Bernard, who lit the car on fire, were sentenced to death in 2000. “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 that took the lives of Todd and Stacie Bagley,” his lawyer Robert C Owen said in a statement after his death.

Vialva was executed by lethal injection in September but other participants who were under the age of 17 at the time avoided the death penalty.

Without a last-minute reprieve, Bernard became the ninth federal inmate to be executed since July, when the Trump administration resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus.