Prior to this year, no federal executions had taken place in the U.S. since 2003. But then in July, Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump resumed the practice and have authorized the death penalty eight times. Number nine is Lisa Montgomery, scheduled to die for her murder of a pregnant woman in 2004.
Number ten, 40-year-old Brandon Bernard, is scheduled to be put to death on December 10, after 21 years in prison. But now, a last-minute campaign for mercy is coming from some surprising sources: five of the jurors who originally sentenced found Bernard guilty and the prosecutor who helped put him on death row are now all asking Trump to intervene and halt the execution.
In 1999, an 18-year-old Bernard and his two friends kidnapped Todd and Stacie Bagley, two Waco, Texas youth pastors. The original plan was to rob the couple, but one of Bernard’s accomplices ordered the Bagleys into the trunk of a car, where the two pled with their captors to embrace Jesus. Instead, Bernard’s friend shot the Bagleys in the head and Bernard lit the car on fire.
In 2000, a jury sentenced the 18-year-old to die as an accomplice. Eleven of the twelve jurors were white, no opening statements were offered and no witnesses were called at the penalty stage.
But something has happened in the ensuing two decades. Bernard has been a model prisoner, incurring to infractions behind bars and mentoring at-risk youth. His conduct has led for nearly half of the jurors who first found him guilty to call for mercy. “I hope that my speaking up can help Mr. Bernard have his death sentence commuted to a life sentence,” wrote one juror. “I never thought this opportunity would come. I pray that President Trump rights this wrong and commutes Mr. Bernard’s sentence to life imprisonment.”
Angela Moore, the federal prosecutor who argued for his execution, has written an op-ed on why she’s reversed course.
“I think executing Brandon would be a terrible stain on the nation’s honor,” Moore wrote. “Having seen Brandon grow into a humble, remorseful adult fully capable of living peacefully in prison, how can we say he is among that tiny group of offenders who must be put to death?”
Bernard’s friends and family have put together a website where you can write to Trump to ask him for clemency.