How Brandon Bernard’s Death Reopened a Deep Wound in America’s History

Brandon Bernard BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of harpersbazaar.com

One of the many paradoxes of the American system is the perpetuation of punishment mechanisms as old as the colonies.

In the case of the death penalty, these types of sentences make the United States the only supposedly “developed” country to use execution as a regular solution to the endemic problems of its society.

And although it has been a controversial topic for years, the execution of Brandon Bernard by lethal injection last Thursday has reopened a deep wound in the country.

The Justice Department executed Bernard after spending most of his life on death row for his involvement in a double murder-robbery in 1999 when he was 18.

According to the New York Times, Bernard becomes the ninth man to be executed by the federal government since July, despite a nationwide campaign for clemency that the Donald Trump administration ignored.

The argument of those calling for the pardon was that Bernard was a teenager at the time of the murders, rekindling doubts about imposing the death penalty on young inmates convicted of violent crimes.

The 40-year-old man was the second federal inmate to be executed since Election Day and one of six scheduled to be executed by the Trump administration before leaving the White House.

If the next five are carried out, Trump will become the U.S. president to have overseen the largest number of executions as president in more than a century. It would bring the total number of federal executions since July to 13, according to the BBC.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he will work to end the federal death penalty.

Bernard’s case also revived the debate about the recovery and reintegration of prisoners into society.

Among his last words, the condemned man apologized to the family of the couple he had killed, and for the pain he caused his own family.

“I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t,” he said, looking at the witness room windows. “I’m sorry. Those are the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”

The federal prosecutor who defended Bernard’s death sentence had called for Bernard to see out his sentence in prison.

In an opinion piece published in the Indianapolis Star, Angela Moore wrote: “Having learned so much since 2000 about the maturation of the human brain and having seen Brandon grow into a humble, remorseful adult fully capable of living peacefully in prison, how can we say he is among that tiny group of offenders who must be put to death?”

As the BBC continues, five of the surviving nine jurors called for Trump to commute Bernard’s death sentence.

Tens of thousands of other people urged the president to grant Bernard clemency, including Senators Richard J Durbin and Cory Brooker.

On Thursday, leading lawyers Allen Dershowitz and Ken Starr also joined his defense team.

For her part, Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun and one of the most well-known anti-death penalty advocates, spoke to Bernard and his legal team moments before the execution was carried out. “I have never met anyone quite like Brandon, who was so poised about living or dying,” she told BAZAAR.com. “I think he had just reached a point spiritually in his life that he had accepted responsibility and was truly sorry for what he had done.”