The Death Penalty and the Man who is being Executed Today

Today, September 24, 2020, around 6:00 PM this evening, the Federal Government will execute Chris Andre Vialva; he is the 7th person this year. Furthermore, Chris’s execution will be the second this week. The Trump Administration has restarted federal executions, after a 17-year hiatus. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the federal government has only executed 3 people.

Update: The Bureau of Prisons said Christopher Vialva’s time of death was 6:46 p.m. ET. September 24, 2020.

Discussion

Are sentences punitive or rehabilitative? Do the statistic matter to us? Is it not concerning that half of the population of death row inmates are African American even though they are only 13% of the population, does that not suggest something is wrong with the system? What is an acceptable margin of error for putting someone to death? [11% of death row inmates are exonerated.] Does life have intrinsic value, regardless? What should the minimum age be to convict and sentence someone to death?

The youngest person ever executed in the United States was George Stinney, 14 years old. Recently, the circuit court vacated his conviction based on evidence that George did not receive a fair trial. There is also a good amount of evidence suggesting his innocence.

Death Row Inmate George Stinney, Jr. executed at 14 Years old.
George Stinney, Jr. The youngest person to be executed in the United States – 14 years old.

For some years the federal government has neglected to exercise the death penalty, though states have executed 1,516 individuals. According to the Death Penalty Information Center “172 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges related to the wrongful convictions.” Currently, there are 2,721 people on death row.

This week Dr. Jason Chein, of Temple University released a study suggesting that adolescent brain immaturity makes pending execution inappropriate. The study’s release coincided with Chris Vialva’s case.

Should minors face the death penalty? [Roper v. Simmon (2005) outlawed the death penalty for individuals under 18 at the time of their crime]

How about recidivism rates for violent offenders? Studies show that violent offenders are more likely to recommit more violent crimes than their non-violent counterparts. Does a fair trial require members of the same racial background to be on the jury? The jury that sentenced Chris Vialva, a black man, to death was entirely white. Over half of death row inmates African American, even though African Americans only make up around 13% of the U.S. population.

The Crime

On June 20, 1999, Christopher Andre Vialva, Christopher Lewis, and Tony Sparks, met to plan a robbery. The next day they enlisted two additional gang members, Brandon Bernard and Terry Brown. The plan was to ask for a ride, pull a gun on the victim, obtain their money and ATM card, and abandon the care with the victims locked in the truck. Afterwards, the group went out to acquire two pistols that they needed for the robbery.

On Sunday, June 21, 1999, the group asked Todd and Stacie Bagley for a ride. The couple was in Texas for a revival meeting at their old church. After entering the vehicle the group brandished the weapons and demanded the Bagleys hand over their valuables. Next, they forced the Bagleys into the truck of their vehicle. Then, the group drove to ATMs to withdraw money and attempted to pawn Satcie wedding ring. After several hours of driving around, Vialva was convinced that they need to kill the Bagleys. Vialva, Bernard, Lewis, and Brown drove to an isolated area of Fort Hood Military Reservation. Finally, Vialva shot each of the Bagleys in the head. Then the group set the vehicle on fire before fleeing.

They were caught the car slide off of the muddy road near the scene. When the fire department was dispatched to handle the car fire the group was still stuck.

Todd and Stacie Bagley

The Person

Chris Vialva lived a difficult life prior to his 1999 crimes. He was only 19 years old at the time of his arrest. Chris suffered abuse as an infant by his biological father that caused his Mother to leave Chris’s father. Vialva who identifies as black, recalls early memories of racial prejudice within his own family. Chris’s past includes abuse, evidence of organic brain damage, and suicidal ideations beginning at 11 years old. In prison, Chris converted to Messianic Judaism and advocated to have weekly religious gatherings. Also, Chris has become known for his crocheting. Additionally, Chris became an advocate for criminal justice reform. Chris has released a message this week to the media: here

Chris Vialva and Mother

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George Williams | Law Student