11 December 2020

Trump administration plans second execution after Kim Kardashian plea failed to save Brandon Bernard

The Trump administration plans to continue its unprecedented series of post-election executions by putting to death a truck driver who severely abused his two-year-old daughter for weeks in 2002, then killed her by slamming her head against a truck’s windows and dashboard.

Lawyers for 56-year-old Alfred Bourgeois, from Louisiana, say he has an IQ that puts him in the intellectually disabled category, and contend that should have made him ineligible for the death penalty under federal law.

Bourgeois would be the 10th federal death row inmate put to death since federal executions resumed under Donald Trump in July after a 17-year hiatus.

Donald Trump (AP)

He would be the second person executed this week at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, and three more are planned in January.

The series of executions after election day is the first time in more than 130 years when federal executions have occurred during a so-called lame-duck period.

Bourgeois’ lawyers contend that the apparent hurry by the Republican president to get executions in before the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty, has deprived their client of his rights to exhaust his legal options.

Several appeals courts have concluded that neither evidence nor criminal law on intellectual disability support the claims by Bourgeois’ legal team.

Brandon Bernard (AP)

On Thursday, Brandon Bernard was put to death for his part in a 1999 killing of a religious couple from Iowa after he and other teenage members of a street gang abducted and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley in Texas.

Bernard was 18 at the time, and his was a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when his crime was committed.

Several high-profile figures, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, appealed to Mr Trump to commute his sentence to life in prison, citing Bernard’s youth at the time and the remorse he has expressed over years.

Kim Kardashian West (PA Archive)

In Bourgeois’ case, the crimes stand out as particularly brutal because they involved his young daughter.

According to court filings, he gained temporary custody of the child after a 2002 paternity suit from a Texas woman. Bourgeois was living in Louisiana at the time with his wife and their two children.

Over the next month, Bourgeois whipped the girl with an electrical cord, burned her feet with a cigarette lighter and hit her on the head with a plastic baseball bat so hard that her head swelled — then refused to seek medical treatment for her, court documents say. Prosecutors also said he sexually abused her.

Her toilet training allegedly enraged Bourgeois and he sometimes forced her to sleep on a training toilet.

It was on a trucking run to Corpus Christi, Texas, when he took the toddler with him that he ended up killing her.

Again angered by her toilet training, he grabbed her inside the truck by her shoulders and slammed her head on the windows and dashboard four times, court filings say. She died the next day in a hospital of brain injuries.

After his 2004 conviction in federal court in southern Texas, a judge rejected claims stemming from his alleged intellectual disability, noting he did not receive a diagnosis until after he had been sentenced to death.

“Up to that point, Bourgeois had lived a life which, in broad outlines, did not manifest gross intellectual deficiencies,” the court said.

Lawyers argued that such findings stem from misunderstandings about disabilities. They said Bourgeois had tests that demonstrated his IQ was around 70, well below average, and that his childhood history buttressed their claims of his disability.

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