Convicted murderer Brandon Bernard was executed by lethal injection on Thursday at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute, Indiana, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Bernard, 40, was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. ET. His death marked the ninth execution since the federal death penalty was resumed in the United States earlier this year.
Bernard and his accomplices kidnapped and brutally murdered a married couple from Iowa who were both Christian youth ministers, Todd and Stacie Bagley, in Fort Hood military reservation in Texas, in 1999. The couple was on their way from a Sunday service in Killeen.
Bernard was 18 years old at the time of the murder.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Todd Bagley had agreed to give a ride to several of Bernard’s accomplices. One of Bernard’s accomplices, Christopher Vialva, pulled a gun on the couple and forced them into the trunk of their car. Vialva then drove around for several hours, stopping at ATMs to withdraw cash and attempting to pawn the woman’s wedding ring, according to prosecutors.
After the vehicle was later parked at Fort Hood, Bernard and another accomplice doused the car with lighter fluid, and one of the accomplices killed Todd by shooting him in the head. The same accomplice also shot Stacie in the head, causing her to become unconscious. Bernard then lit the car on fire, which killed Stacie through smoke inhalation.
A jury in June 2000 found him guilty on two counts of first degree murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. He was also convicted of carjacking, conspiracy to commit murder, and aiding and abetting.
The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and collateral relief was rejected by every court that considered it, the DOJ noted.
Bernard on Dec. 10 directed his last words to the family of the couple he killed.
“I’m sorry. That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day,” he said, reported The Associated Press.
He spoke for more than three minutes, and said that he had been waiting for this chance to say he was sorry both to the victims’ family and also for the pain he caused his own family, the AP reported, adding that he earlier said about his role in the killing, “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t.”
Vialva was also executed by lethal injection for his role in the Bagleys’ murder on Sept. 24, 2020.
Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of Bernard’s execution. She became emotional when she spoke about the apologies from Bernard and Vialva. “The apology and remorse … helped very much heal my heart,” she said. “I can very much say: I forgive them.”
Just before the execution was scheduled, Bernard’s lawyers filed papers with the Supreme Court seeking to halt the execution but the high court denied the request, clearing the way for the execution to proceed. The court’s three liberal-leaning justices dissented.
Defense attorneys have argued in court and in a petition for clemency from President Donald Trump that Bernard was a low-ranking, subservient member of the group, reported The Associated Press. They say the victim couple were both likely dead before Bernard doused their car with lighter fluid and set it on fire, a claim that conflicts with government testimony at trial. Bernard, they say, had repeatedly expressed remorse.
His fight for clemency had garnered the attention of celebrity Kim Kardashian, who on Twitter had pleaded for the government to show mercy.
Following the execution, Kardashian wrote, “They killed Brandon. He was such a reformed person. So hopeful and positive until the end. More importantly he is sorry, so sorry for the hurt and pain he has caused others.
“Brandon wanted me to tell every single person who worked on his behalf supporting him in any way a huge thank you … His main message that he learned in his life was to not hang out with the wrong crowd. That was so important to him that he shared that with the youth. It got him caught up and he made poor choices,” she added. Kardashian in the past two years has been a vocal advocate for prison reform.
Bernard had been crocheting in prison and even launched a death-row crocheting group in which inmates have shared patterns for making sweaters, blankets and hats, said Ashley Kincaid Eve, an anti-death penalty activist.
Several more inmates are set to be executed before the end of the year, including Alfred Bourgeois, who is scheduled to be executed on Friday for torturing and killing his young daughter, according to a Justice Department summary of the case.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.