Harvard Law professor emeritus and attorney Alan Dershowitz said Friday that the White House declined to issue a commutation when he reached out regarding Brandon Bernard, 40, the man sentenced to death for his role in the 1999 murders of Iowa couple Todd Bagley, 26, and Stacie Bagley, 28. Bernard was executed on Thursday night in Terra Haute, Indiana.
“I reached out to the White House,” Dershowitz told the Law&Crime Network’s Angenette Levy in an interview. “I spoke to everybody I could speak to in the White House, and made my pitch. They were very respectful. They listened to me, and ultimately decided not to grant commutation.”
Dershowitz said he was introduced to the case by his wife, neuropsychologist Carolyn Cohen. He and Ken Starr made a last-ditch effort to stop the execution.
But the United States Supreme Court declined on Thursday to issue a petition for a writ of certiorari in Bernard’s case, which would have stalled Bernard’s execution during the lame duck period of President Donald Trump’s term. Bernard was put to death that same day.
In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made no secret of her disdain of an appellate court decision against Bernard. Prosecutors were accused of not giving exculpatory evidence to the defense: a police sergeant maintained that members of Bernard’s gang were not all equal, and Bernard was at the bottom of a 13-tier hierarchy.
“How exactly was Bernard supposed to have raised a Brady claim more than a decade ago when he brought his first habeas petition, given that he was unaware of the evidence the Government concealed from him?” Sotomayor asked. “Yet that is what the Fifth Circuit’s rule demands. That rule perversely rewards the Government for keeping exculpatory information secret until after an inmate’s first habeas petition has been resolved.”
Dershowitz said he supported Bernard getting a commutation not just because of the information about the hierarchy, or a medical examiner saying that Stacie Bagley was medical dead when the defendant set their vehicle on fire, but because the defendant was a “different human being. They executed a different person from the person who committed the crime.”
Dershowitz said that the execution of Bernard was both a “travesty” and a “tragedy.” He said, “this is not a man who deserved to die.”
Supporters, including a former prison warden, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, said Bernard was a different person. Five jurors from trial supported Bernard’s petition for clemency, reasoning that it did not seem like he aimed to kill the couple.
Five defendants were involved in kidnapping, robbing, and killing the Bagleys after the couple gave them a ride. Christopher Vialva was the person convicted of shooting them in the head (he was executed back on September 24). Bernard set the victims’ vehicle on fire.
“I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t,” Bernard said Thursday as part of his last words, according to CNN. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
“It has been a very difficult to wait 21 years for the sentence that was imposed by the judge and jury on those who cruelly participated in the destruction of our children, to be finally completed,” Todd Bagley’s mother Georgia Bagley said in a statement. This senseless act of unnecessary evil was premeditated and had many opportunities to be stopped at any time during a 9-hour period. This was torture, as they pleaded for their lives from the trunk of their own car.”
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]
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