Friday, September 25, 2020

Federal government carries out 7th execution as election looms

The 14th Execution of 2020

The U.S. government executed Christopher Andre Vialva on September 24, 2020 for a 1999 Texas double murder, reported the Texas Tribune.

Vialva’s death was scheduled to be the seventh federal execution this year after a push by President Donald Trump’s administration to restart the federal death penalty after a 17-year hiatus. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty nationally in 1976, only three men on federal death row were executed before 2020. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was executed in 2001, and two executions in 2001 and 2003 stemmed from Texas murders.

Vialva was pronounced dead at 6:46 p.m. Eastern, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It was the first federal execution for a Texas case this year, and the 40-year-old was the first Black man killed in the 2020 federal executions, which are taking place during a pandemic. In Texas — the state that by far executes the most people — several executions have been taken off the calendar due to the new coronavirus, resulting in what is expected to be the lowest number of state executions in one year in nearly a quarter-century.

Vialva was convicted in the slaying and robbery of an Iowa couple when he was 19. He and others, including his co-defendant and fellow death row inmate, Brandon Bernard, carjacked Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way home from church, according to court records. The couple was kept in the trunk while the young men tried to pull money from the victims’ bank accounts and pawn a wedding ring. Eventually, Vialva shot both of the victims in the head while they were in the trunk, and Bernard set the car on fire, the records state.

The crime was deemed a federal crime, not a state one, because the killing occurred on a secluded part of the Fort Hood U.S. Army post in Killeen. This year, Fort Hood has been heavily scrutinized as at least nine soldiers have died in suicides, homicides and accidents.

The Trump administration aimed to restart federal executions last year, when it set five executions for December 2019 and January 2020 in cases in which men had been convicted of murdering children. The government planned to use pentobarbital, the same lethal drug Texas uses in its routinely held executions. Court fights over the lethal injection procedure and the drug’s potential painful effects delayed the executions, but the first federal execution since 2003 took place in July in Terre Haute, Indiana.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a 2019 statement that “we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

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