Brandon Bernard spent his 20 years of incarceration counseling others to not follow his path and without any major disciplinary infractions. As reported by The Associated Press, Bernard’s final words were an apology to the victims’ family and his family. “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t,” he said.
Grabbing national attention, Bernard is the ninth person executed since the Department of Justice resumed the practice this summer after a 17 year hiatus. His execution is also the first to be carried out by a lame duck president in 130 years.
Former jurors and a former prosecutor joined the chorus of people demanding the Trump Administration show mercy for Brandon Bernard. Reuters reported that five of the jurors from Bernard’s trial supported a clemency petition on his behalf.
While they still believed Bernard had been guilty they did not think he intended to kill anyone. The jurors also thought his original attorneys did a bad job of defending him at trial. A post from the Death Penalty Information Center reported the jurors also cited new evidence that had been withheld by the prosecution at the original trial.
As the prosecutor who defended the death verdict on appeal, Angela Moore, wrote an op-ed in November arguing against the execution. She pointed to the misrepresentation of Bernard’s position in the gang chain of command and racialized nature of the trial as a major problem. Moore also raised concerns about the immaturity of the adolescent brain, as Bernard was 18 at the time of the crime.
“This scientific truth played a decisive role in the Supreme Court’s recent decisions holding that juveniles should be treated differently in the criminal justice system,” wrote Moore. “The same science shows that 18-year-olds are no different from 17-year-olds in both immaturities and potential for rehabilitation.”
Lawyers for Bernard appealed to the Supreme Court for a last minute stay but were denied. His case is yet another example of the Supreme Court’s failure to intervene in matters of injustice.
“Today, the court allows the federal government to execute Brandon Bernard, despite Bernard’s troubling allegations that the government secured his death sentence by withholding exculpatory evidence and knowingly eliciting false testimony against him,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent.
Hours after Bernard’s execution, the Movement for Black Lives released an email statement placing this moment within the context of the outgoing president and Attorney General William Barr’s legacy of championing the death penalty. Movement leaders encourage people outraged by Bernard’s execution to sign on to the #BREATHEAct and call for the end to the death penalty.
While democratic party leaders are worried about “slogans”, movement leaders say that defund applies to the system of capital punishment as well.
“We need more than reform,” read the statement. “We need reparations, transformation, and restoration. Brandon Bernard was the ninth person to be federally executed this year. Unfortunately, he won’t be the last.”