Brandon Bernard is scheduled to be put to death on December 10 at the Terre Haute Prison in Indiana for a crime he was convicted of committing in June 1999 when he was 18 years old.
The federal inmate follows one of his alleged accomplices in being executed for the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley, a young Christian missionary couple visiting Texas from Iowa.
The courts convicted a group of teens for abducting and robbing the Bagleys in Killeen before killing them on federal land at the Fort Hood Military Reservation.
According to case information on FindLaw, prosecutors said then-19-year-old Christopher Andre Vialva was the ring leader in the 1999 abduction of the Bagleys. Vialva was executed at Terre Haute on September 24, 2020, the seventh federal inmate to be put to death by the Trump administration since July. Bernard will be the ninth.
But some say Bernard should not be put to death, in part because he was so young when he and Vialva along with Christopher Lewis, Tony Sparks and Terry Brown, who were all 15 to 16 years old, killed the Bagleys, but also because “he did not have a leading role in that crime, and he has demonstrated positive behavior throughout his 20 years of incarceration, even reaching out to others and counseling them not to follow in his path,” according to a website dedicated to saving Bernard from execution called Help Save Brandon.
Bernard Started the Bagleys’ Car on Fire After Vialva Shot Them Both in the Head, Court Documents Say
According to the case files, Bernard’s role in the death of the Bagleys was lesser than Vialva’s.
The story, according to court documents, is that Vialva hatched the plan to do a carjacking with Sparks and Lewis, and the three gang affiliates met up with Bernard and Brown the next day for help. Bernard lent Vialva his gun, but neither he nor Brown was with Vialva, Sparks and Lewis during the hours the teens drove around with the Bagleys, who were forced into the trunk at gunpoint with Bernard’s gun wielded by Vialva.
Eventually, Vialva decided the Bagleys had to die because they’d seen his face, according to FindLaw. That’s when Bernard and Brown met back up with their friends. Their job was to buy gasoline and to burn the car.
The group of five teens then all drove to a secluded spot at Belton Lake Recreation Area on the Fort Hood military reservation with the Bagleys still in the trunk.
According to the case files:
Vialva parked the Bagleys’ car on top of a little hill. Brown and Bernard poured lighter fluid on the interior of the car while the Bagleys sang and prayed in the trunk.
According to Brown, Stacie’s last words were “Jesus loves you” and “Jesus, take care of us.” Vialva crudely cussed at her in reply. Vialva put on his mask and told Lewis to open the trunk. Vialva then shot Todd in the head with the .40 caliber gun, killing him instantly. Vialva shot Stacie in the right side of her face, knocking her unconscious, but not killing her. Bernard set the car on fire. An autopsy later revealed that Stacie died from smoke inhalation.
The case law reports that “Vialva was convicted on three capital murder counts and Bernard on a single count for Stacie’s death. The jury found that aggravating factors outweighed mitigating factors for each defendant and sentenced them to death.”
In a clemency video, Bernard said at one point he wanted to reach out to the Bagley family to tell them “that I felt bad and I wish I could change things.”
Bernard has spent over 21 years on death row after being convicted of homicide murder, carjacking, conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree murder on a government reservation and aiding and abetting, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
Bernard’s Execution & Another Set for Friday Are Still on Even Though 8 Members of the Execution Team Recently Tested Positive for COVID-19
In addition to Bernard’s scheduled execution on December 10, Alfred Bourgeous is scheduled to be executed on December 11 at Terre Haute, even as the Associated Press reported that “eight staff members who took part in an execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus and five of those staffers will take part in executions scheduled for this week. … It’s unclear whether they could still be infectious.”
Two non-death row inmates are suing to halt executions until the pandemic is under better control, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Lawyers for Patrick R. Smith and Brandon S. Holm, the inmates who are suing, have said that executions draw around 200 people, but the federal government indicated it’s more like 50 to 125, according to the IndyStar.
But U.S. trial attorney Jordan L. Von Bokern said the execution should not concern the plaintiffs because it will not increase their exposure to the virus.
He wrote in a reply brief, “This is especially so given the precautions taken by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) with respect to COVID-19 generally and its actions walling off the execution team, to the greatest extent possible, from FCC Terre Haute inmates and staff,” the IndyStar reported.