U.S. government puts first Black inmate to death since resumption of federal executions this year

Federal Executions

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Christopher Vialva, who was convicted in 2000 for the murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley, became the seventh man this year to be executed at Terre Haute’s Federal Correction Institution.

Vialva was pronounced dead at 6:46 p.m. Thursday.

In 1999, Vialva and his accomplices asked the Bagleys — who were visiting Texas from their home in Iowa — for a ride as they were driving home from a church service. Vialva pulled a gun on the couple and he and his accomplices took their money, jewelry and ATM card. The Bagleys were locked in their trunk as Vialva and the others drove around, withdrawing money from the couple’s account at bank machines. The couple sang “Jesus loves us” just before being shot in the head. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the couple pleaded for their lives.

Todd died instantly, but Stacie did not. Instead, she died of smoke inhalation after one of Vialva’s accomplices, Brandon Bernard, set their car on fire.

Vialva was 19 at the time of the shootings. Bernard remains on death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute.

Vialva’s final statement was a prayer for the families of Todd and Stacie, asking God to comfort them. His final words were, “I am ready, Father.”

Before the execution, his lower lip quivered multiple times. He repeatedly looked to his left, where his family members were watching.

Earlier in the day, Vialva’s mother, Lisa Brown, publicly apologized to the Bagleys and their survivors.

“I’ve never been able to tell you that because I was told I could not have access to you,” Brown said to assembled reporters. “My son wants you to know that he is deeply remorseful for the pain that he has caused you and the other members of the family for your loss.”

She also said of her son, “In his own words, he is changed and he is redeemed,” she said. “And I believe that with all my heart. And that’s why I am able to let him go today.”

The Bagleys’ family were not scheduled to speak to the media, but Todd Bagley’s mother Georgia issued a statement:

“Vialva now says he has turned his life around and has influenced other lives since then, but Todd and Stacie have also influenced many lives,” her statement read in part. “They were willing to lay down their lives to try and win their kidnappers to the Lord by quoting scripture, praying, and singing praises to God before they died. We will never know how many people they could have influenced for good if they had been given the chance. I feel when these tragedies happen, both sides of the story should be given. I believe when someone deliberately takes the life of another, they should suffer the consequences for their actions.”

“Christopher’s mother had the opportunity to visit him for the past 21 years,” the statement continued. “We have had to wait for 21 years for justice and closure. We cannot be with our children for visits or to see them on holidays. We were denied that privilege. Todd and Stacie were innocent victims. Please remember the victims and their families whose lives have been shattered and are still trying to cope. I have the assurance that Todd and Stacie were staunch Christians and are now in heaven with Jesus, who will richly reward them for their willingness to be his witnesses even until death. I know without a doubt we will have a glorious reunion with them one day!”

Susan Otto, Vialva’s attorney, argued that race played a central role in landing her client on death row. She argued that there was no evidence that Vialva was a gang leader as prosecutors had charged.

“It played right into the narrative that he was a dangerous Black thug who killed these lovely white people. And they were lovely,” Otto said in a recent phone interview. She added: “Race was a very strong component of this case.”

Vialva was the first Black inmate to be executed this year. One was Navajo, while the other five were White.

Today’s execution was the seventh federal execution of 2020. Prior to this year, no federal inmate had been put to death since 2003. Three men were executed in July, and two in August. William LeCroy was put to death on Tuesday.

No other executions are scheduled for 2020.

Death-penalty opponents from the Sisters of Providence, Death Penalty Action and the Indiana Abolition Coalition were among those protesting the execution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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