By Jeff Stack
The Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation is cosponsoring a “Vigil for Life” this Thursday, December 10 at 12:00 noon, outside the federal courthouse at 80 Lafayette Street in Jefferson City. (Masks and physical distancing are required.) The Trump-Barr administration sickly set the execution of Brandon Bernard this day — observed elsewhere much more respectfully as International Human Rights Day. Federal officials also plan to execute Alfred Bourgeois the next day and three more people in January before Trump leaves office.
“Everyone has the right to life,” affirms the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by the United States and dozens of countries on Dec. 10, 1948. There is no subsequent clause such as, “unless someone has committed a horrible crime.” We roundly condemn all murder, including those “legally” murdered by execution. We mourn with all people grieving the loss of their loved ones by violent actions). Human rights are not negotiable for any person, even for those who have killed another person.
Other issues are troubling in both cases and in other planned U.S. executions — perhaps troubling as well even for those supporting capital punishment.
Brandon Bernard, set to be executed on Thursday, bore a lesser level of culpability than did other teens involved in the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley. One of the former prosecutors in his case and five of the jurors who ultimately recommended “death,” have spoken out publicly supporting a commutation of his death sentence. (“Trump Prepares to Kill Brandon Bernard Even as Jurors Say His Life Should Be Spared,” The Intercept, 12/5/20.)
There’s no doubt Alfred Bourgeois committed horrible crimes, having physically and sexually abused his two-year-old daughter JG before causing her death. We are horrified at his actions and wish for all victims of such violence to be protected and for perpetrators to be held to account– incarcerated as needed to protect the public, but not killed. Let our society cease employing violence to demonstrate our revulsion to it.
It is also worth noting medical experts insist Bourgeois is “intellectually disabled,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins decision that executing such individuals, formerly termed mentally-retarded, is unconstitutional (the court cited Missouri’s passage a year early, of a legislative bill banning the practice in 2001 as evidence of an “evolving standard of decency” across the country).
The Indiana Lawyer, reported in March that “On the issue of his intellectual disability, the federal court found that Bourgeois met all three criteria, including his two IQ tests resulting in appropriately adjusted IQ scores of 68 and 70, the presentation of compelling evidence that his adaptive performance falls more than two standard deviations below the mean in all three adaptive skill sets, and that the onset of his deficits occurred when he was a minor.”
DPIC also reports, “Corey Johnson, who faces execution by the federal government on 14 January, has also never been afforded a hearing on his intellectual disability claim.”
Including Orlando Hall, who was executed Nov. 19, five of the last six people set to be executed before Trump’s term ends are African-Americans, reflective of the extreme racist nature of capital punishment (in total 13 people could be executed during the murdering spree by the Trump gang since this summer). The last of those is Dustin Higgs, perversely set to be killed on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
The other person Trump officials have ordered to be executed is Lisa Montgomery. She would be the first woman executed by the US government in over 70 years. There is no excuse for her killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a pregnant woman in northern Missouri, then taking the 8-month baby from her abdomen and claiming the child as her own. But there are additional reasons, beyond the immorality of all murders — as to why mercy and life, not an execution is warranted. She was the victim of lifelong sexual and physical violence, human trafficking and as a result, depends on major psychotropic medication.
Jeff Stack is coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, based in Columbia, MO, and a longtime member of Missourians Against the Death Penalty.