Advocates on Wednesday denounced the planned execution of Brandon Bernard and called on President Donald Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison.
Kim Kardashian West, a celebrity and advocate for criminal justice reform, took to Twitter to call for clemency for Bernard. “Having gotten to know Brandon, I am heartbroken about this execution,” she wrote.
The call comes a day after a federal court denied a motion to halt his execution, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Bernard, 40, was 18 when he participated in the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley, two youth ministers killed in 1999. If he receives a lethal injection as planned on Thursday at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, it would be a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when the crime occurred.
He did not shoot the Bagleys and another man was convicted of pulling the trigger, according to an opinion piece authored by the Washington Post’s editorial board, which called his execution “disturbing”.
The editorial, published on November 26, said that five of the nine jurors who convicted Bernard no longer want him to face execution and one of the prosecutors who “helped put him on death row now argues against his execution, citing scientific strides establishing that the brains of 18-year-olds are not fully developed”.
West has worked with the Trump administration on prison reform since 2018, when she lobbied the president to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who served 21 years for a nonviolent drug offence.
She also assisted in the passing of the bipartisan First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that aimed to reduce terms for nonviolent offences and improve conditions in US penal facilities.
West said she would spend the next 24 hours tweeting about Bernard’s case “and why his life should be spared” by Trump.
Most of the time executions happen, in our names, without a lot of attention given to them. This is unacceptable. For the next 24 hours I will be tweeting about Brandon and his case and why his life should be spared by @realDonaldTrump.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) December 9, 2020
Brett L Tolman, a conservative former US attorney, agreed with West. He highlighted similar issues with Bernard’s trial as the Washington Post editorial, and named more.
These include Bernard’s love for his daughter and his tenure as a “model” prisoner during his more than 20 years behind bars.
-Brandon has been and can continue to be a wonderful father to his daughter.
-Brandon is not afraid to die and is at peace but wants to live for his daughter and family.
-Brandon is a positive resource to others in prison including the Warden and those who work there.
— Brett L. Tolman (@tolmanbrett) December 9, 2020
Three other federal executions have been scheduled after Bernard’s, some just days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden next month.
Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press news agency he is likely to schedule more before he leaves the Justice Department.
Bernard’s execution would be the ninth by the federal government since the Trump administration resumed implementing capital punishment in July, ending a 17-year hiatus prompted by questions about execution methods and broader opposition to the practice.
It flies in the face of a 131-year tradition of outgoing “lame duck” administrations refraining from carrying out executions, allowing the incoming government to shoulder the responsibility.
Trump lost the November 3 election and although he refuses to concede defeat, President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes capital punishment, is expected to take office on January 20.
The Justice Department’s move also contrasts with an effective halt on executions by the individual states due to the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit prisons hard.
The Justice Department disclosed 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.