With witnesses looking on from behind a glass barrier, the 40-year-old Bernard was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. Eastern time.
Bernard directed his last words to the family of the couple he killed, speaking with striking calm for someone who knew he was about to die. “I’m sorry,” he said, lifting his head and looking at the witness-room windows. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
As he spoke before he died, Bernard showed no outward signs of fear, distress or apprehension, speaking lucidly and naturally as witnesses looked on behind a glass barrier. Speaking for more than three minutes, Bernard said 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. Earlier, he said about his role in the killing, “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t.”
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. Federal executions were resumed by Trump in July after a 17-year hiatus despite coronavirus outbreak in U.S. prisons.
Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of the execution, saying she wanted to thank Trump, Attorney General William Barr and others at the Justice Department for bringing the family some closure. She became emotional when she spoke about the apologies from Bernard before he died and from an accomplice, Christopher Vialva, who was executed in September. “The apology and remorse … helped very much heal my heart,” she said, beginning to cry and then recomposing herself. “I can very much say: I forgive them.”
Alfred Bourgeois, a 56-year-old Louisiana truck driver, is set to die on Friday for killing his two-year-old daughter by repeatedly slamming her head into a truck’s windows and dashboard. Bourgeois’ lawyers alleged he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, but several courts said evidence didn’t support that claim.
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.
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.
Federal executions during a presidential transfer of power also are rare, especially during a transition from a death-penalty proponent to a president-elect like Biden opposed to capital punishment. The last time executions occurred in a lame-duck period was during the presidency of Grover Cleveland in the 1890s.
Defence attorneys have argued in court and in a petition for clemency from Mr Trump that Bernard was a low-ranking, subservient member of the group. They say both Bagleys were 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.
The case prompted calls for Trump to intervene, including from one prosecutor at his 2000 trial who now says racial bias may have influenced the nearly all-white jury’s imposition of a death sentence against Bernard, who is Black. Several jurors have also since said publicly that they regret not opting for life in prison instead.