TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Out of the two executions I have witnessed, Christopher Vialva's will be "the one" that replays in my head.
Unlike Keith Nelson's, whose execution I witnessed in August, Vialva's was different for several reasons.
- WAITING TO DIE: KEITH NELSON
- WAITING TO DIE: LEZMOND MITCHELL
- WAITING TO DIE: DUSTIN LEE HONKEN
- WAITING TO DIE: WESLEY IRA PURKEY
- WAITING TO DIE: DANIEL LEWIS LEE
- WAITING TO DIE: WILLIAM LECROY
See the full description from the Department of Justice below:
Christopher Andre Vialva murdered youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley in 1999. While stopping to use a payphone in Killeen, Texas, Todd Bagley agreed to give a ride to Vialva and two of his accomplices.
In the victims’ car, Vialva pulled out a gun, forced the Bagleys into the trunk, and drove the vehicle for several hours, stopping at ATMs to withdraw money from the couple’s bank account and trying to pawn Stacie Bagley’s wedding ring. While locked in the trunk, the couple spoke with their abductors about God and pleaded for their lives. Vialva eventually parked at a remote site on the Fort Hood, Texas, military reservation, where an accomplice doused the car with lighter fluid as the couple sang and prayed.
Vialva then shot Todd Bagley in the head, killing him instantly, and shot Stacie Bagley in the face, knocking her unconscious and leaving her to die of smoke inhalation after an accomplice set the car on fire. In June 2000, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found Vialva guilty of, among other offenses, two counts of murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and unanimously recommended two death sentences.
His convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal, and his requests for collateral relief were rejected by every court that considered them. Vialva’s execution is scheduled for Sept. 24, 2020.
I remember getting to the media center, at the federal prison facility, just two minutes before 4 p.m., which was opening time.
Because I've been through this once before, processing felt like a breeze, showing two forms of ID, filling out paperwork, and answering COVID screening questions.
I took my seat and noticed I was in the back of the room this time. During Nelson's execution, my table was in the front. I had a clear view of the other media personnel there, which included five of us, counting me.
As we waited for the media briefing to start, I remember just focusing in on the "ticking" of my watch. Other than a few whispers among media witnesses, it was pretty quiet.
Around 4:30, the public information officer gave us a briefing about Vialva and his time on death row.
Officials told us Vialva was notified of his date on July 31.
During his time, he was constantly supervised and had access to an attorney and social visitors. That's in addition to reading material and mail.
For his execution, he was allowed to invite up to six people. They included his spiritual advisor, two attorneys and three family members. Based off of a press conference with his mother earlier that morning, we learned she would be among those in attendance.
Eight people, on behalf of the victims, were also allowed to attend. However, officials never confirmed if any of the Bagley's family members were there.
While the Bagley family declined to speak with the media, they did provide a written statement, which was given to us after the execution.
At 5:04, we left the media center to board the buses and head to the next round of processing, which seemed quicker than it did before.
Around 5:22, we made it to the road, leading up to the execution chamber, where we sat and waited for almost an hour. It was a slightly longer wait than before.
At 6:18, we pulled into the lot and went into the chamber.
By 6:20, the curtain rolled up, and once again I saw that "old doctor's office" room. Like before, there were two windows peering into the execution room. I stood in my same spot, in the front row, on the right side.
On the gurney was Christopher Vialva. Unlike Nelson, I had a clear view of him this time.
Compared to Nelson, he was much smaller, with a more athletic build, and did not have on a face mask.
I could see his thick, black-framed glasses and goatee. At 40-years-old, he appeared to look much younger at first glance. His arms were stretched out and connected to IVs. I also caught part of a tattoo on his right forearm, which was our left, from where we stood.
When asked if he had a final statement, Vialva used his time to say a prayer for the families of Todd and Stacie Bagley.
He started off by saying "Father, this is my final prayer. I pray that you search out the hearts of Todd and Stacie's family and heal their hearts with grace and love."
He went on to end his statement by saying, "I'm ready, Father."
As he waited on the lethal dose of Pentobarbital, Vialva gave off the feeling of nervousness and fear. He constantly fidgeted through his toes and fingers.
The procedure started around 6:22, during this time, Vialva often looked over to his left side of the room, which was our right. Every time he looked that direction, his eyes would tear and his lip would quiver. Later, after talking to a PIO (public information officer) in the van, we later learned his family was viewing the execution from that side of the room. Which, to me, seemed as if he was looking at his mother.
As the injection started to settle in, Vialva switched his gaze upward.
With Nelson's execution, I looked at his stomach to monitor his breathing patterns. However, it was hard for me to tell if Vialva was breathing several times throughout the execution. So I switched my gaze to his skin.
One quote that stuck out to me:
“Vialva now says he has turned his life around & has influenced other lives since then, but Todd & Stacie have also influenced many lives. They were willing to lay down their lives to try & win their kidnappers to the Lord by quoting scripture....”
— Alia Blackburn (@Alia_WTHI) September 25, 2020
I started to focus on his right hand, which was to my left. At the beginning of the procedure, his skin was a caramel shade.
By the time it was over, the skin on his hand would appear blotchy and faded, his eyes closed and his mouth slightly open.
Vialva was officially declared dead at 6:46 p.m., 24 minutes from when the procedure started.
While 24 minutes to the average person seems like a short time, inside the chamber, it felt like an eternity.
Keeping my gaze on Vialva and his body movements, I found myself wondering if he was still breathing several times during those 24 minutes. His breathing was very faint and hard to detect underneath the pale green sheet that covered him.
After he was declared dead, the curtain came down and we got back on the bus to the media center.
When we returned, there were press releases regarding Vialva's execution, as well as the victims statement.
The victims statement came from Georgia Bagley, Todd Bagley's mother. While it was very lengthy, Bagley mentioned the importance of remembering the victims in the case: Todd and Stacie.
One quote read, "Vialva now says he has turned his life around and has influenced other lives since then, but Todd and Stacie have also influenced many lives. They were willing to lay down their lives to try and win their kidnappers to the Lord by quoting scripture, praying, and singing praises to God before they died. We will never know how many people they could have influenced for good if they had been given the chance."
Bagley went on to say, "Christopher's mother had the opportunity to visit him for 21 years. The execution should have been carried out 3-5 years after a jury of 12 people found him guilty. We have had to wait for 21 years for justice and closure. We cannot be with our children for visits or to see them on holidays. We were denied that privilege."
"Todd and Stacie were innocent victims. Please remember the victims and their families whose lives have been shattered and are still trying to cope. I have the assurance that Todd and Stacie were staunch Christians and are now in heaven with Jesus, who will richly reward them for their willingness to be his witnesses even unto death. I know without a doubt we will have a glorious reunion with them one day!"
Bagley ended her statement by thanking those who participated in seeing justice through for Todd and Stacie.