Bernard’s case became a high-profile clemency campaign that advocates say highlights major issues within the justice system. The cases were among the last that were quickly scheduled by the Trump administration. Bernard and Bourgeois were two of four Black men scheduled to die by lethal injection during the Trump administration’s final days in the office.
Bourgeois was the 10th person to be executed since Attorney General William Barr announced in July 2019 the revival of capital punishment for federal death row inmates — a decision that has been fraught with controversy.
The Department of Justice has defended its decision.
“The Department intended to resume executions in December 2019, however due to litigation, the process was suspended,” a department spokeswoman told CNN Friday night. “Once the Supreme Court ruled in favor of resuming executions, the Department has proceeded each month — with the exception of October — since July 2020.”
Bernard was one of five gang members convicted in Texas of killing Stacie and Todd Bagley — who were youth ministers — in 1999.
Although Bernard apologized for his role in the crime before he died on Thursday night, it wasn’t until 2018, when his legal team learned that the trial prosecutor withheld information from the defense. The alleged violation was the basis of Bernard’s appeals and changed the minds of five out of the nine living jurors who sentenced him to death, according to court documents.
“A case like Brandon Bernard’s shows that our criminal legal system often prioritizes finality over fairness, even when there are deeply troubling legal issues that have never been addressed by the courts and in spite of widespread calls for clemency,” Kristin Houle Cuellar, executive director of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told CNN on Friday.
Texas has consistently lead the country with the most executions and has conducted 570 since 1976.
Case attracted national attention
Bernard, 40, was the youngest person in the United States in nearly 70 years to be executed by the federal government for a crime committed when he was a teenager. He was also the ninth of 13 federal death row inmates Barr requested the Bureau of Prisons to schedule to die before Inauguration Day –…