Alagi Yorro Jallow
Thursday night, at 9:27 pm Eastern Time, Brandon Bernard, an inmate on death row in America, breathed his last out of a lethal injection given to him in the execution of his death sentence. Brandon Bernard, who received a lethal injection of phenobarbital at a U.S. prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, was a rare execution of a person in his teens when his crime was committed.
Brandon Bernard was 40 years old at his death. He was 18 years old when he committed the crime, i.e., burning a couple. There is a 22-year gap between the day he committed the offense and the day he was executed. Without a doubt, he had changed – for better or for worse. Those that knew him personally vouch that he had changed for the better. He grew remorseful of his actions. He became selfless over time. Even as he neared the moment of his execution, all he would worry about was his family and the surviving family of his victims.
With witnesses looking on from behind a glass barrier separating them from a pale-green death chamber, the 40-year-old Bernard was pronounced dead at 9:27 pm Eastern time. He directed his last words to the couple’s family he played a role in the killing, speaking with striking calm for someone who knew he was about to die. “I am sorry,” he said, lifting his head and looking at witness-room windows. “That is the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
As he spoke, he showed no outward signs of fear or distress, speaking lucidly and naturally. He spoke for more than three minutes, saying he had been waiting for this chance to say he was sorry – not only to the victims’ family but also for the pain he caused his own family. Referring to his part in the killing, he said: “I wish I could take it all back, but I cannot.”
Several high-profile figures, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, had appealed to President Donald Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison.
The Trump administration Thursday carried out its ninth federal execution of the year in what has been the first series of executions during a presidential lame-duck period in 130 years, putting to death a Texas street-gang member in the slayings of a religious couple from Iowa more than two decades ago.
Deep philosophical questions arise – was last night’s Brandon the 1998 Brandon? Do people remain static over time, or they change? What is the point of the penal system? Rehabilitation or retribution? If rehabilitation, shouldn’t signs of character improvement be a rationale for clemency?
It is noteworthy that the death penalty was reintroduced during Donald Trump’s reign after a 17-year freeze.
Brandon Bernard was 18 when he and four other teenagers abducted and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way from a Sunday service in Killeen, Texas, during which Bernard doused their car with lighter fluid and set it on fire with their bodies in the back trunk. Federal executions were resumed by Trump in July after a 17-year hiatus despite a coronavirus outbreak in U.S. prisons. Four more federal executions, including one Friday, are planned in the weeks before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. One was carried out in late November. The first series of federal executions over the summer were of white men. Four of the five inmates set to die before Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration are Black men. The fifth is a white woman who would be the first female inmate executed by the federal government in nearly six decades. His case will form an essential point of discussion in the coming days for those advocating for abolishing the death penalty.
Alagi Yorro Jallow