Donald Trump and William Barr got the go-ahead for capital punishment last summer, and they are not going to let a little thing like a presidential transition interrupt their killing spree. On Thursday night, Brandon Bernard became the second person executed since Election Day, with four more executions planned before Inauguration Day, including one on Friday, just a day after Bernard.
Bernard’s killing is particularly attention-getting because five of the jurors who voted for the death penalty and even one of the prosecutors who argued for it on appeal had changed their positions, saying he should be allowed to live. Bernard was sentenced for his role, at 18 years old, in the 1999 killing of Todd and Stacie Bagley. Though he did not kill the Bagleys—the man who shot them, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September—Bernard then lit the car they were in on fire. Because the murder occurred at Fort Hood, it was a federal crime.
Since his conviction, Bernard had by all reports been a model prisoner, working with at-risk youth. His case drew the attention of Trump impeachment lawyers Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, who asked the Supreme Court for a delay in his execution so they could get up to speed on the case. The court rejected that request, clearing the way for his execution Thursday night.
“‘I’m sorry,” Bernard said in the moments before he was killed by the government, according to an Associated Press pool report. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
President-elect Joe Biden has called for a moratorium on the death penalty, so Trump and Barr are ensuring that they clear out federal death row as much as possible between now and January 20.