Brandon Bernard’s Planned Execution Stirs Debate Over Punishment for Young Offenders

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Brandon Bernard’s Planned Execution Stirs Debate Over Punishment for Young Offenders

Mr. Bernard was convicted of murder, among other offenses, and sentenced to death.

“I’m sure this Brandon guy was not acting like a child when he committed the murders,” said Michael Rushford, the president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a legal organization that supports crime victims and the death penalty.

Mr. Vialva and Mr. Bernard were tried together. Like Mr. Brown, two of the other defendants, Christopher Lewis and Tony Sparks, were too young to face the death penalty.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Lewis, who was 15 during the crime, pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution. Mr. Sparks, who was 16 at the time of the crime, also pleaded guilty. Mr. Brown and Mr. Lewis have since been released from federal custody, and Mr. Sparks is projected for release in 2030, according to a Bureau of Prisons database. He was originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Courts have been unreceptive to Mr. Bernard’s recent pleas for a delay to his execution. In what could be Mr. Bernard’s final days, his lawyers claimed that the government had suppressed an expert opinion showing that Mr. Bernard held the lowest level of status within the gang with which the government claimed he and the other defendants were affiliated.

The suppressed opinion, his lawyers argued, would have altered the jury’s calculation of his relative culpability. In September, the Fifth Circuit declined to offer Mr. Bernard any sort of reprieve in a case related to the claim. His lawyers brought a similar case in a federal court in Indiana, which a judge denied on Wednesday.

Among those opposing Mr. Bernard’s execution is one of the jurors in the case, Gary McClung, a 56-year-old handyman who lives in Centerville, Tenn. In an interview, he said he felt some misgivings about the jury’s recommendation of the death sentence but decided not to put up a concerted fight against what appeared to be the consensus.

Angela Moore, who represented the government during the appeal of Mr. Bernard’s and Mr. Vialva’s cases, has since become an opponent of the death penalty. As a young lawyer at the time, the case felt like “a feather in my cap,” she said, and though she had some misgivings about the case, she did not believe airing those concerns would have made a difference.

Source: New York Times

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