Kim Kardashian West urges stop to execution of death row inmate in Terre Haute who killed 2 when he was 18

Kim Kardashian West put her considerable influence behind a push to stop the impending execution of a man who killed two people when he was 18 and has been on death row for 20 years.

Posted: Nov 30, 2020 3:29 PM
Updated: Nov 30, 2020 3:59 PM

(CNN) -- Kim Kardashian West put her considerable influence behind a push to stop the impending execution of a man who killed two people when he was 18 and has been on death row for 20 years.

Brandon Bernard was convicted of the 1999 kidnapping and killing of youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley on a military reservation in Texas. A federal jury found him guilty in 2000 of two counts of murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and unanimously recommended a death sentence.

Bernard is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection December 10 -- a deadline that spurred the celebrity's plea.

"A terrible case has been brought to my attention and I need your help," Kardashian West wrote in a series of tweets Sunday. "Without it, on December (10th) Brandon Bernard is going to be executed for a crime he participated in as a teenager."

She added a link to a website set up on his behalf and asked her followers to "let President Trump know that you think Brandon's death sentence is unjust."

Bernard's scheduled execution comes as the Trump administration rushes to execute death row inmates before Joe Biden takes over the presidency. After a 17-year hiatus in federal executions, eight death row inmates have been executed in the past six months.

One of Bernard's co-defendants, Christopher Vialva, was executed on September 22. Vialva was 19 at the time of the murders.

Kardashian West's plea for leniency comes as part of her growing interest in criminal justice reform. She has used her sway with the Trump administration to urge the signing of the First Step Act and to commute the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson for nonviolent drug offenses.

Brandon Bernard convicted of killing two
Bernard's case stems from the gruesome killings of the Bagley couple in 1999. The jury found that five young, Black defendants participated in kidnapping the couple and then killing them.

Vialva shot the couple in the head, after which Bernard set the car on fire with them still in the trunk, the Justice Department said. Both were sentenced to the death penalty, while three other teenage defendants received lengthy prison sentences.

Now, 20 years later, attorneys for Bernard say he should not be executed because of his age at the time, racial bias in the case and his inadequate legal support during the trial.

"Brandon is not innocent, and the crime is tragic -- it resulted in the deaths of two good Samaritans, Todd and Stacie Bagley, who were white. But while Brandon's role might warrant very severe punishment, it does not warrant a death sentence," his defense team wrote.

For one, scientific studies have shown that teenagers' brains are not fully developed and that young people are more likely to take serious risks and less able to control their impulses in stressful situations. Some advocates say this evidence indicates young people should not be executed for things they did in their youth without fully developed brains.

In addition, the case pitted five Black defendants accused of killing two White victims. The Death Penalty Information Center has found the death sentence is disproportionately applied in such cases with Black perpetrators and White victims.

Finally, Bernard's court-appointed attorneys did not make any opening statement on his behalf, according to his current defense team. Had he been represented better at trial, he would not be on death row, they argue.

Kardashian West and others push for leniency
In a series of tweets, Kardashian West offered her sympathy to the victims' families and called for Bernard to serve a life sentence rather than be put to death.

"First, I want to say that a terrible crime was committed and me fighting for a stay of execution does not take away from the sympathy I have for the victims Todd and Stacie Bagley, and their families. My heart breaks for everyone involved," she wrote.

Still, she argued Bernard played a minor role in the gruesome killings and said that he received the death penalty because of inadequate legal assistance and the racial dynamics of the trial.

"Although all five teens were black, 11 of the 12 jurors were white. This, coupled with the misleading and incomplete information the jury was given, deprived the boys of a fair trial," she wrote. "Instead of being executed, Brandon could live out his sentence in prison."

Several people who participated in Bernard's trial have since changed their minds on the death sentence.

Angela Moore, a former federal prosecutor who defended the death sentence on appeal, wrote an op-ed in The Indianapolis Star earlier this month calling to stop the execution. Citing Bernard's youth and research on how Black defendants are unfairly perceived, she said executing him "would be a terrible stain on the nation's honor."

Further, five of the nine surviving jurors who sentenced him to death have said they no longer believe the death sentence is necessary for him, according to the defense team.

Bernard's attorneys write on his website that he remains remorseful for his actions.

"Brandon has spent 20 years reflecting on his role in the deaths of both Todd and Stacie Bagley. Brandon is remorseful and ashamed that his actions and inaction contributed to their untimely deaths. Brandon knows that he has inflicted immense pain and suffering on the Bagley family, for which he is deeply sorry," the attorneys write.

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