TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - The Trump administration plans to continue its unprecedented series of post-election federal executions Friday by putting to death a Louisiana truck driver who severely abused his 2-year-old daughter for weeks in 2002, then killed her by slamming her head against a truck’s windows and dashboard.
Lawyers for 56-year-old Alfred Bourgeois say he has an IQ that puts him in the intellectually disabled category and they contend that should have made him ineligible for the death penalty under federal law.
Bourgeois would be the 10th federal death-row inmate put to death since federal executions resumed under President Donald Trump in July after a 17-year hiatus. He would be the second person executed this week at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Three more executions are planned in January.
The series of executions after Election Day, the first in late November, is the first time in over 130 years where federal executions have occurred during a lame-duck period.
Bourgeois’ lawyers contend that the apparent hurry by the Republican president to get executions in before the Jan. 20 inauguration of death-penalty foe Joe Biden, a Democrat, has deprived their client his rights to exhaust his legal options.
Several appeals courts have concluded that neither evidence nor criminal law on intellectual disability support the claims by Bourgeois’ legal team.
On Thursday, Brandon Bernard was put to death for his part in a 1999 killing of a religious couple from Iowa after he and other teenage members of a street gang abducted and robbed Todd and Stacie Bagley in Texas. Bernard, who was 18 at the time of the killings, was a rare execution of a person who was in his teens when his crime was committed.
This August 2016 photo provided by the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington shows Brandon Bernard. (Stacey Brownstein/Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Washington)
Several high-profile figures, including reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, appealed to Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison, citing, among other things, Bernard’s youth at the time and the remorse he has expressed over years.
In Bourgeois’ case, the crimes stand out as particularly brutal because they involved his young daughter.
According to court filings, he gained temporary custody of the child, referred to in court papers only as “JG,” after a 2002 paternity suit from a Texas woman. Bourgeois was living in Louisiana at the time with his wife and their two children.
Over the next month, Bourgeois whipped the girl with an electrical cord, burned her feet with a cigarette lighter and hit her in the head with a plastic baseball bat so hard that her head swelled — then refused to seek medical treatment for her, court documents say. Prosecutors also said he sexually abused her.
Her toilet training allegedly enraged Bourgeois and he would sometimes force her to sleep on a training toilet.
It was on a trucking run to Corpus Christi, Texas, when he took the toddler with him that he ended up killing her. Again angered by her toilet training, he grabbed her inside the truck by her shoulders and slammed her head on the windows and dashboard four times, court filings say. She died the next day in a hospital of brain injuries.
After his 2004 conviction in federal court in southern Texas, a judge rejected claims stemming from his alleged intellectual disability, noting he did not receive a diagnosis until after he had been sentenced to death.
“Up to that point, Bourgeois had lived a life which, in broad outlines, did not manifest gross intellectual deficiencies,” the court said.
Attorneys argued that such findings stem from misunderstandings about disabilities. They said Bourgeois had tests that demonstrated his IQ was around 70, well below average, and that his childhood history buttressed their claims of his disability.
On Thursday night, as Bernard lay on a gurney before receiving the lethal injection, he directed his last words to the family of the couple he played a role in killing, speaking with striking calm for someone who knew he was about to die.
“I’m sorry,” he said, lifting his head and looking at witness-room windows. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”
Referring to his part in the killing of Todd and Stacie Bagley, he said: “I wish I could take it all back, but I can’t.”
Todd Bagley’s mother, Georgia, spoke to reporters within 30 minutes of the execution, saying she wanted to thank Trump, Attorney General William Barr and others at the Justice Department for helping to bring the Bagley family closure.
But she also became emotional when she spoke about the apologies from Bernard before he died Thursday and from an accomplice, Christopher Vialva, the ringleader of the group who shot the Bagley’s in the head before the car was burned. He was executed in September.
“The apology and remorse ... helped very much heal my heart,” she said, beginning to cry and then recomposing herself. “I can very much say: I forgive them.”