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U.S. Executes Brandon Bernard

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Trump administration carried out its ninth federal execution of the year last night. Last-minute clemency pleas for Brandon Bernard were rejected. Celebrities and a former U.S. prosecutor had taken up his cause. George Hale from member station WFIU has more.

GEORGE HALE, BYLINE: Fans flooded Donald Trump's Twitter account for a week after Kim Kardashian West asked for help trying to save Bernard's life. But late Thursday, it was the mother of a murdered youth minister applauding the president's decision to let the execution go forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGIA BAGLEY: The family of Todd Bagley would like to thank President Donald J. Trump, Attorney General William H. Barr and the Department of Justice.

HALE: Todd and his wife Stacie were visiting Texas in 1999 when a group of young men kidnapped them, hoping to empty their bank accounts. Hours later, the couple was locked in the trunk of their car when the gang's ringleader fatally shot them both. Bernard was a low-ranking member of the gang and followed orders to set the car on fire. Federal officials executed shooter Christopher Vialva in September. They also moved to set an execution date for Bernard. Supporters of Bernard insist he had no idea Vialva planned to shoot anyone. He was also only 18 at the time and wasn't part of the original kidnapping.

But prosecutors managed to convince a mostly white jury to sentence both young Black men to death. The majority of surviving jurors later changed their minds about Bernard, so did Angela Moore, a former U.S. prosecutor who helped defeat Bernard's appeal.

ANGELA MOORE: Mr. Bernard was not planning on any kidnapping or killing to happen. Mr. Vialva was.

HALE: Moore wrote in an op-ed in the Indianapolis Star detailing her objections to Bernard's execution. That's when Kim Kardashian West got involved, tweeting the essay to her nearly 70 million followers. Trump listened to West before. He once hosted her in the White House alongside prisoners he had granted clemency. The star's support offered rare hope to an inmate scheduled to die under a Supreme Court stacked with death penalty supporters.

Hours before the execution, Bernard's defense added attorneys and Trump backers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz to the team. They sought a 14-day stay to review the case. But any hope of Trump intervening faded late Thursday as prison officials gathered witnesses and the execution went forward. Kardashian West took to Twitter soon after. Our system is so effed up, she said.

The next federal execution is set for tonight.

For NPR News, I'm George Hale in Terre Haute, Ind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.