CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The Trump administration on Thursday carried out its ninth federal execution of the year and the first during a presidential lame-duck period in 130 years, putting to death a Texas street-gang member for his role in the slayings of a religious couple from Iowa more than two decades ago.
Four more federal executions, including one Friday, are planned in the weeks before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The case of Brendan Bernard, who received a lethal injection of phenobarbital inside a death chamber at a U.S. prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, was a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when his crime was committed.
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.”
One of Bernard’s co-defendants, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September. Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, released a statement after that execution, saying, “I believe when someone deliberately takes the life of another, they suffer the consequences for their actions.”
There has been growing support among celebrities including Kim Kardashian who were pushing for the execution to be halted.
And just before the execution was scheduled, Bernard’s lawyers filed papers with the Supreme Court seeking to halt the execution. The legal team expanded to include two very high-profile attorneys: Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard law professor who was part of Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team and whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Mike Tyson; and Ken Starr, who also defended Trump during the impeachment and is most famous as an independent counsel who led the investigation into Bill Clinton.
But about two and a half hours after the execution was scheduled, the Supreme Court denied the request, clearing the way for the execution to proceed.
The Justice Department refused to delay Thursday’s execution of Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois, and three more in January, even after eight officials who participated in an execution last month tested positive for the coronavirus. The eight federal executions in 2020 already are more than in the previous 56 years combined.
Bourgeois’s execution is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 11. The 56-year-old will be put to death by lethal injection for molesting, torturing and killing his two-year-old daughter in 2002.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.