Feds execute two more prisoners

December 14, 2020 • 9:15 am

As I reported about a month ago, three federal executions were scheduled between then and Christmas, with three more on tap before Inauguration Day on January 20. This is a total of six, and clearly, because of their disproportionate number, Trump is rushing to get these people killed before Biden becomes President. (Presidents have the power to stay executions, and Biden has said he’s opposed to the death penalty.) I don’t expect Trump to exercise any empathy here: he reserves that for his cronies who have been convicted of federal crimes.

If all of these executions take place, as they surely will, this will make a total if 13 state-sponsored killings under Trump’s administration—the most under one President in over a century.  As the Associated Press reports, this is a very rare year in another way: executions by the federal government outnumber those carried out by the states themselves.  It’s usually the other way around, and by a huge margin. Here’s a graph, with the blue bars being federal executions and the orange ones state executions:

Well, this last week two of the three Government Christmas Killings took place. All federal executions are carried out by lethal injection, and all in the same place: the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The first killing took place on Thursday, when Brandon Bernard, 40, was put to death. He was 18 at the time he committed two murders, had spent more than half his life on death row, and pleaded for clemency from Trump because he was a teenager when he did the crime. From the New York Times:.

Among his final words, Mr. Bernard apologized to the family of the couple he had killed and for the pain he caused his own family, according to a report from a journalist in attendance. For his role in their deaths, he said, “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking at the witness room windows. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”

Mr. Bernard did not appear outwardly afraid or distressed as he spoke. A minute after the lethal injection began, his eyes slowly closed, and his breaths became increasingly shallow, the report noted.

He was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., the Bureau of Prisons said.

The second, on Friday, was of Alfred Bourgeois, 56. The Associated Press reported on his death:

As a lethal injection of pentobarbital began flowing through IVs into both of his arms, Bourgeois tilted his head to look at his spiritual adviser in a corner of the death chamber clutching a Bible. Bourgeois gave him a thumbs-up sign, and his spiritual adviser raised his thumb in reply.

Seconds later, Bourgeois peered up toward the glass dividing him from the media and other witnesses in adjoining rooms, and then grimaced and furrowed his eyebrows. He began to exhale rhythmically, and his stomach started to quiver uncontrollably. After five minutes, the heaving of his stomach stopped and his entire body became still. He did not move for about 20 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

Bourgeois had met with his spiritual adviser earlier Friday as he sought to come to terms with the possibility of dying, one of his lawyers, Shawn Nolan, told The Associated Press hours before the execution. He said Bourgeois had been “praying for redemption.”

Bourgeois took up drawing in prison, including doing renditions of members of his legal team. Nolan said he had a good disciplinary record on death row.

I am not saying that the executed should have been released, though at least for Bernard that might have been a possibility had he reformed, but I do insist that the death penalty is barbaric and unworthy of America. I won’t go into my arguments against it, but will mention one: if convicted people are later exonerated, as 167 death row inmates have been since 1973, there’s no bringing them back when they’re dead. And if they’re not exonerated, well, there’s always life without parole.

All First World countries save Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S. have abolished capital punishment (see below). Do we really want to be in the small group of exceptions? What about America requires us to retain the death penalty? Although numbers of countries alone don’t establish the moral rectitude of abolishing executions, they do show a consensus. For those who still want to have state-sponsored killings, I reply as Oliver Cromwell implored the Church of Scotland:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

h/t: Ken.

18 thoughts on “Feds execute two more prisoners

  1. Like climate change progress or gun control, the removal of the killing penalty will come with less religion.

  2. More evidence, on top of his attempted autogolpe, that Donald Trump is, at heart, a third-world style caudillo.

    There are no reasons for this unseemly rush to execute federal prisoners before his term expires other than to excite the bloodlust of his base and to piss off his opponents.

      1. The Justice Department Addendum that allowed federal executions to resume last July was entered by Attorney General William Barr at the direction of Donald Trump. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (whose Director sets the time and date of execution), is a division of the Justice Department, and thus answers to the president through the attorney general. Also, since the power of clemency is vested solely in the president under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US constitution, only Donald Trump himself has the power to issue stays of execution or to commute death sentences to life in prison.

  3. I don’t expect that the US will end capital punishment for a long time. Is it a topic that any current politician would be willing to openly discuss? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. I simply don’t hear US politicians speaking out against it. The issue is still raised in Canada occasionally – always by those on the right of the political spectrum, and usually as an excuse for loosening our gun control laws. Apparently more guns plus capital punishment equals fewer violent crimes. Interestingly, a bill to restore the death penalty was defeated in a 147 – 127 vote by the House of Commons in 1987. A majority of the Progressive Conservative members supported it.

    1. Twenty-one of the fifty states of the Union have abolished capital punishment, as have the District of Columbia and the territory of Puerto Rico. Also, several other states have had what effectively amounts to a moratorium on executions for several years. And popular support for the death penalty in the US is at its lowest ebb ever. So I don’t thing things are quite so dire as you suppose.

  4. I like your ramblings but I admit it is difficult to take seriously a person who would want to be ruled by a clearly demented man just because he has succumbed to the notion “orange man bad” however I believe it is important for me to listen to all sides of a story!

      1. Plus, being orange isn’t what makes Donald Trump bad; being orange is what makes Donald Trump ridiculous. His arrant unfitness for office by any meaningful measure — be it intellect or experience, temperament or character — is what makes him bad. That, and his being a malignant, sociopathic narcissist.

    1. If by “a clearly demented man” you are referring to Joseph R. Biden, he is the duly elected president-elect of the United States of America. Also, as a democratic republic, we are not “ruled” by anyone; the president is merely the head of one of the three branches of government. Basic civics.

      1. Thank you for making that point. I wish more Americans recognized it, and stopped calling elected public servants their “leaders”. They are not. They are our employees (and given the general approval ratings of both houses of Congress, they should all have been fired long ago. When even the Donald’s approval rating is twice as high as that of Congress, things are bad indeed).

        I’m not sure basic civics is even taught in public schools anymore.

        1. I’m not sure basic civics is even taught in public schools anymore.

          Yes, and, unfortunately, it shows, Robert.

      2. And as merely the head of one of three branches of government Donald Trump did not make these murderers commit their heinous crimes nor did he indict them, try them or sentence them. And by allowing their executions to happen, he did not kill them.

        How are the victims of these murderers doing? I too oppose the death penalty, but I’m not so blinded by my opposition that I blame Trump and my sympathies are always with the victims and never with the murderers.

        1. Trump could commute their sentences to life without parole. So yes, in a sense he could have stopped their executions, but didn’t. To say that is not to say that one’s sympathy is with the murderers, for crying out loud

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