Brandon Bernard and the Question of the Death Penalty
By Jack Conner
On the death penalty—execution is no solution
On Thursday, December 10th, a 40-year-old man was put to death for a crime committed when he was only 18. His name was Brandon Bernard, and he spent the last 22 years of his life in federal prison before being executed by lethal injection. In the days prior to his death, his defense team attempted to prevent his execution, reaching out to the Trump administration and the Department of Justice to appeal for the change of his sentencing. While their attempts to prevent Bernard’s death were unsuccessful, his team did bring attention to Bernard’s situation, and to the issue of the death penalty itself.
Brandon Bernard was originally arrested and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2000 after he destroyed evidence for the murders of Todd and Stacey Bagley. Their murderer, Christopher Vialva, was also executed. Reports of the event say that Vialva abducted the couple and took their car, and eventually met up with Bernard. Sometime later, Vialva shot the Bagley’s, and Bernard set the car on fire. This would make Bernard the accomplice to a double homicide, a charge that typically leads to numerous years, in some cases, even life in prison, but never the death penalty.
In fact, Bernard was not sentenced to death at the time of his trial, as the judge only gave him life without parole. Later, however, he was sentenced to death and kept in prison up until the day of his execution. During his time in prison, Bernard was reportedly a model prisoner, causing no trouble and expressing remorse for his actions. That didn’t stop the federal government from pushing forward with his execution, though, and he became one of five prisoners scheduled to be executed before the end of the year.
Bernard’s situation and tragic death brought the death penalty to the forefront of political debates, opening conversations over its purpose and usefulness. Studies surrounding the death penalty show that it does not serve as a more useful deterrent of crime than other sentences, meaning it does not prevent crime in any impactful sense. Race also contributes largely to the death penalty, as the Death Penalty Information Center states that roughly 35% of people executed by the death penalty are African American. Additionally, DNA evidence and modern technology have allowed for many Death Row prisoners to be exonerated and released, meaning that they could have been wrongfully put to death.
Despite all these facts and the large public disapproval, the death penalty remains in place in the United States. However, just as easily as it was once instituted, it can be removed as well. Seeing as there is large public support for its removal, it would make sense for representatives to take action and finally dissolve this inhumane institution. Hopefully, soon in the future, the death penalty will no longer exist, and prisoners like Brandon Bernard will be able to reflect on their mistakes and better their lives.