Brandon Bernard, a Black man who was an accomplice in a crime as a teen and received little help from attorneys during his 1999 criminal trial, is scheduled for execution Thursday — ironically, International Human Rights Day.
Before this year, no federal execution had taken place since 2003.
In July, Attorney General William Barr, at the behest of lame-duck President Donald Trump, resumed federal executions. Before Trump leaves office next month, they plan to kill five more — four of whom are African American.
The sole white person is Lisa Montgomery, a severely mentally ill woman in Missouri who suffered as a sexual abuse victim for most of her life.
Montgomery’s execution is scheduled for Jan. 12.
If all are carried out, it would total 13 executions in less than seven months for the administration, making Trump the most prolific execution president in more than 130 years.
The revelations about the executions come as Trump and Barr have signaled that they want to do away with lethal injections and bring in a firing squad to carry out federal executions.
Trump’s bloodlust is set to continue a day after Bernard’s killing on Dec. 11, with Alfred Bourgeois, who’s been on death row in Indiana for 17 years, set to die.
On Jan. 14, Cory Johnson is also scheduled to die in Indiana.
On Jan. 15 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — Dustin Higgs will be killed if there isn’t a last-minute change of heart by an administration many have described as heartless and racist.
In Higgs’s case, multiple witnesses and his co-defendant, Willis Haynes, have maintained that Higgs killed no one.
Prosecutors claimed Higgs bullied Haynes into three murders, but a 2012 affidavit signed by Haynes called the government’s position “bull—t.”
“Dustin didn’t threaten me,” Haynes wrote. “I was not scared of him. Dustin didn’t make me do anything that night or ever.”
On a website bearing his name, Higgs is pleading for mercy.
“I’m currently sitting on Death Row for a crime I didn’t commit,” Higgs wrote on www.savedustinhiggs.com. “I wonder if it’s that I’m not yelling loud enough or is it that the blatant miscarriage of justice of me being killed for a crime I’m certainly innocent of really doesn’t matter.
“I am not asking people to listen and lend their support to just rants and raves without offering evidence,” he continued. “I’m putting forth proof with the government’s own files that will ultimately expose the truth, and prove that my ‘so called’ co-defendants, from the beginning conspired to shield one another, and pin the murders on me. My voice doesn’t hold enough weight to bring down this wall of injustice. It will take the voice of many to bring the wall down.”
In the case of Bernard, he was just 18 when his crime occurred. Convicted as an accomplice in Texas, Bernard wasn’t the triggerman.
Bernard’s lawyers failed to present opening arguments during his criminal trial and didn’t call any witnesses. He has languished on death row since 2000. He’s now 40.
Had the crime occurred just a couple of months earlier, Bernard would not have been eligible for the death penalty.
In a mea culpa op-ed written last month in the Indianapolis Star, Angela Moore, the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas who prosecuted Bernard, said, “people tend to view Black boys — like Brandon — as more blameworthy than their white counterparts, even where other relevant circumstances are identical.”
Indeed, one study showed that Black boys are misperceived as older relative to other races’ peers, Moore said, citing her research.
“Black teens like Brandon are systematically denied the ‘benefit’ of their youth, which is outweighed by their race in the eyes of the police, prosecutors, judges, and jurors,” Moore wrote. “Through time and experience, I have come to appreciate that a teenager who takes part in committing a terrible crime may transform over the years into a thoughtful adult. From everything I have read, it appears that Brandon is just such a person — someone who, even in prison, has maintained rich relationships with his loved ones and worked to find meaning in his life by helping at-risk teenagers avoid a criminal path. Remarkably, in two decades of incarceration, Brandon has never been disciplined for a single violation of prison rules.”
Even the jurors who convicted him have written favorably of Bernard, asking that Trump commute his sentence. Celebrity Kim Kardashian also has requested that Trump spare Bernard’s life.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
Paris Dennard, who sits on the advisory board of Black Voices for Trump and is the Republican National Committee’s senior communications adviser for Black Media Affairs, offered that he didn’t know the details about the cases.
“I would suggest asking the DOJ for details about their crimes as well as the racial makeup of all those that have been executed,” Dennard wrote in an email.
Attorney Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, told Yahoo News, “There’s a presumption of dangerousness and guilt that gets assigned to Black and brown people, which makes them very vulnerable in a very aggressive, predatory criminal justice system.”
“I’m an African-American attorney. I went to Harvard Law School. I’ve been pulled out of my car and threatened by police who said they were going to blow my brains out,” Stevenson said.