A Texas man was executed Thursday after his attorneys, the trial jury and a federal attorney defending his death sentence on appeal made one final attempt.
Brandon Bernard, 40, was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. Bernard was convicted of the 1999 murders of a religious couple from Iowa and made his final words to the couple’s family.
“I’m sorry,” said Bernard. “Those are the only words I can say that fully capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
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Bernard was 18 when he and four other teenagers kidnapped and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way from a Sunday service in Killeen. One of the teenagers, Christopher Vialva, shot the couple in the head, then Bernard set the car on fire with their bodies in the back trunk.
Angela Moore was the federal prosecutor who defended Bernard’s death sentence on appeal. Now in private practice in San Antonio, Moore wrote an Op-Ed on November 18, demanding that Bernard’s life be saved.
In the Indianapolis Star, Moore wrote that “the execution of Brandon would be a terrible stain on the nation’s honor”.
Moore noted that racial prejudice may have influenced the death sentence on Bernard, who is black, by the almost exclusively white jury. Several jurors have since publicly stated that they regret not having opted for life in prison instead.
Defense attorneys argued in court and in a pardon from President Donald Trump that Bernard was a low-ranking member of the group. They say both Bagleys were likely dead before Bernard set the car on fire, a claim that contradicts government statements.
In the Op-Ed, Moore recalled moving on to the next case after successfully defending Bernard’s death sentence.
“I was a prosecutor in San Antonio before becoming a federal appeal attorney and had prosecuted death penalty cases,” Moore wrote. “Like many people, I didn’t think of the day the government would take Brandon out of his prison cell and kill him.”
The Trump administration carried out nine federal executions this year. Four more are planned ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
Moore now works as a defense attorney in San Antonio. In 2005, she founded the Bexar County Public Defender’s Office, which represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.
Shortly before Bernard’s execution on Thursday, Moore told The Daily Beast that the judicial system had failed on the case.
“I want to say the Brandon system has failed. I have failed. The rule of law and justice have failed. Our government is committing legal murder in retaliation for murder,” said Moore.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.