Fresh details have emerged regarding the federal executions carried out during the last six months of the Trump administration. Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz revealed that he pleaded with then-President Donald Trump to call off the execution of Brandon Bernard, who was convicted of killing Todd and Stacie Bagley in 1999. Despite expressing a wish to spare Bernard’s life, Trump explained that he had already promised the victims’ relatives that the execution would proceed. Bernard was executed the following day.
The executions under the Trump administration were marked by secrecy, with limited information available about the process. Autopsy reports obtained by the Associated Press for Corey Johnson, convicted of seven drug-related killings, revealed that he suffered from pulmonary edema during his execution, a condition similar to drowning. The fluid buildup was so severe that it exited his mouth.
President Joe Biden, despite announcing a moratorium on federal executions in 2021, has not fulfilled his promise to abolish the federal death penalty. If Biden does not clear death row, there is a possibility of more federal executions under a future pro-death penalty candidate, such as Trump in 2024, according to Robert Dunham, a capital punishment expert.
The decision to resume federal executions was attributed to Trump’s attorney general at the time, Bill Barr, who approved the use of pentobarbital in executions. Inmates on federal death row began to anticipate the resumption of executions in 2019 when guards started practicing execution procedures.
Brandon Bernard’s case raised questions about his level of involvement in the crime for which he was convicted. While the kidnapping and murder of the Bagleys was brutal, Bernard’s role was disputed. He allegedly set the car ablaze with the victims inside, but evidence regarding Stacie’s cause of death was contested during the trial.
The Supreme Court, with a conservative-leaning majority, consistently cleared legal obstacles to proceed with the executions. Each execution required a significant number of staff and contractors.
The pace of executions alarmed Lisa Montgomery, who was executed in Terre Haute after being held in Texas. Montgomery had killed a pregnant woman and cut the baby from her womb.
With the possibility of the moratorium being lifted, the future of federal executions remains uncertain under the Biden administration.