'Abolish the Death Penalty' Say Democrats After Brandon Bernard's Execution

Prominent Democrats have called for the abolition of the death penalty following Thursday's execution of Brandon Bernard for a crime committed when he was a teenager.

Bernard, 40, was killed by lethal injection at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute bid by his lawyers for clemency.

Before his death, Bernard said of his role in the 1999 kidnapping and killing of two youth ministers: "I wish I could take it all back, but I can't." His co-defendant, Christopher Vialva, was executed on September 22.

Bernard's case became a cause celebre, with a number of high-profile figures pleading for a stay of execution.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West and Senators Richard Durbin (IL) and Cory Booker (NJ) supported his case, as did over half a million people who signed a change.org petition calling for the sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.

The case has sparked a debate about the justice of the death penalty and top Democratic Party figures used the same phrase as they weighed in.

Vermont Senator and former Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders tweeted: "Yes. We must abolish the death penalty— period."

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Ayanna Presley (MA) tweeted the same curt message: "Abolish the death penalty." New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: "This is absolutely sickening. Brandon Bernard should still be alive. Abolish the death penalty."

Meanwhile, the Democratic Coalition tweeted that Bernard "has been executed by lethal injection in Trump's manic quest to cause as much death as possible on his way out the door."

The swipe at Trump comes as four further federal executions are scheduled between Friday and January 15, 2021 in the final weeks of his administration. This is the first time in 130 years that executions have taken place during a presidential transition.

If all of them take place, Trump will have overseen the federal executions of 13 people since July, the most by a U.S. president for more than a century.

Advocates and Bernard's attorneys had argued that expert evidence that could have allowed him to avoid a death sentence had not been presented at his trial.

Five jurors in the case no longer supported the death sentence and backed the lead appellate prosecutor in urging Trump to commute the death sentence to life without parole. As previously reported, Bernard's lawyer Robert Owen told Newsweek in a statement that his client's execution was "a stain on America's criminal justice system."

Brandon Bernard
Brandon Bernard. Courtesy of attorneys for Brandon Bernard

Correction 12/11/2020 8:20 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to correct the number of people who signed the change.org petition.