Stay of Execution For Brandon Bernard Denied by Judge

U.S. District Court Judge James Sweeney has denied a motion for a stay of execution for Brandon Bernard.

Bernard, 40, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana on Thursday.

He was sentenced to death for his role in the 1999 kidnapping and murder of two youth ministers, Todd and Stacie Bagley, in Texas.

Bernard's attorneys had filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, arguing that federal prosecutors had withheld important information throughout Bernard's trial, appeal and post-conviction proceedings that would have spared his life.

But on Tuesday, Sweeney ruled that Bernard's execution could proceed as planned because he "cannot show a strong likelihood of success on his habeas corpus petition."

The decision comes after an online campaign to save Bernard's life, which includes five of the nine jurors who condemned Bernard to death calling for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

In a statement to Newsweek, Bernard's attorney Robert Owen said: "By denying a stay of execution to Brandon Bernard, the court will allow the government to evade responsibility for hiding critical evidence that would have changed the outcome of Brandon's sentencing.

"Brandon has been doggedly seeking relief since we discovered in 2018 that the prosecution had been withholding this key evidence for two decades, yet procedural barriers have prevented him from obtaining a hearing on the merits of his claim.

"Given that five jurors no longer stand by their death verdict, Brandon must not be executed until the courts have fully addressed the constitutionality of his sentence. We will continue to pursue relief from the appellate courts, and hope they will not allow this injustice to stand."

Announcing Bernard's execution in October, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said that Bernard's conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and his request for collateral relief "was rejected by every court that considered it."

The DoJs said Bernard's accomplices had kidnapped the couple after Todd Bagley agreed to give them a ride.

After parking on the Fort Hood military reservation, the DoJ said Bernard and another accomplice doused the car with lighter fluid as the couple sang and prayed while locked in the trunk.

Bernard's co-defendant Christopher Vialva—who was executed in September—shot both in the head, killing Todd Bagley but only knocking Stacie unconscious. "Bernard then lit the car on fire, killing Stacie through smoke inhalation," the DoJ said.

Advocates for Bernard have argued that Vialva had been the one to pull the trigger, while Bernard played a lesser role in the offense and was not present for the initial carjacking.

Attorneys for Bernard, who was 18 at the time of the crime, noted in their motion that at least two "equally culpable" participants had received more lenient sentences and are now out of prison.

Bernard would become the ninth man put to death this year after the Trump administration resumed federal executions over the summer.

He would be the second since President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he would end the federal death penalty, won November's presidential election.

After Bernard, four more inmates—including Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row—are scheduled to die before Biden is inaugurated on January 20.

Brandon Bernard
Brandon Bernard is set to be executed on December 10, despite five of the jurors who condemned him to death calling for his sentence to be commuted. Courtesy of attorneys for Brandon Bernard