Brandon Bernard and the Death Penalty


Colleen McMenamin, Staff Writer

As the Trump presidency was winding down, the Trump administration along with the Department of Defense announced plans to execute five inmates on death row. The first of these inmates was Brandon Bernard. This name has recently drawn mainstream media attention awareness from many celebrities speaking on what they saw as Brandon’s unright prosecution. 

Brandon’s offense took place when he was eighteen years old when he barely met the age requirement for the death penalty and became one of the youngest people ever to be sentenced to death in a federal court. The crime was committed by five teens who ranged in age from 15 to 19 years old in June 1999 in Killeen Texas, where he and the other children killed Pastor Todd Bagley and his wife Stacey Bagley. Brandon, however, was absent in the initial stages of the crime where the carjacking and robbery took place and did not shoot either of the victims. He did light the car on fire after his friend shot and killed both victims. The other teenagers who were equally as involved in the crime did not receive the same type of punishment as Brandon; their punishments ranged from 20 to 35 years in prison. 

Once on trial, Brandon’s lawyer failed to give an opening argument and his jury was made up of primarily white adults. This jury proceeded to sentence Brandon to death, giving him the same punishment as the teen who shot and killed both victims. 

Trump and his administration were strongly in favor of the death penalty. A senior former Trump administration official told the Daily Beast in an interview, “If it were up to him, we would return to the old days where it was eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth — or we would forget about proportionality altogether”. He would talk about “lining up drug dealers and gang members in front of a firing squad,” when speaking on how to handle increasing crime rates in Detroit and Chicago. This aggressive stance on the death penalty comes as no surprise when in his final weeks of presidency, his administration chose to push the death penalty after a 17-year pause, going through with executions purposely prior to Biden’s inauguration. 

However, Brandon’s defense team stated that five of the nine jurors that declared Brandon to the death penalty no longer agree with what they once stated. In an interview with the jurors on Help Save Brandon, one of them said, “I support clemency for Brandon Bernard. Also, my understanding now, as I am older, with more life experiences, about teenagers and our brain and social development factors into my current wishes for clemency. I do not want Brandon to be executed for bad decisions he made when he was a teenager. I believe that Brandon’s single death sentence should be commuted to life without parole,” and another one said “While the evidence proved that Brandon Bernard is guilty beyond any doubt, it also clearly showed that Brandon Bernard was not the ringleader behind these offenses, but a follower. Because of this, I support Bernard’s death sentence being commuted to life without the possibility of parole. I am praying the President commutes Brandon Bernard’s death sentence.” Along with these jurors, the prosecutor against Brandon is now speaking out saying, “executing Brandon would be a terrible stain on the nation’s honor.”

Despite enormous efforts to save Brandon, he was executed on December 10, 2020, by lethal injection. The legacy Brandon has left behind is inspiring; his story raised incredible awareness for the link between race and the death penalty and the racial injustice still lingering within our judicial system.