Talking About Death Care for Brandon Bernard

He’s dead. Now what?

Photo of funeral-goers wearing black standing around a black casket with roses on top
Source: Rhodi Lopez on Unsplash

On December 10, 2020 in Terre Haute, Indiana, Brandon Bernard was executed with a lethal injection. He was executed for his role in the carjacking and murders of an Iowa couple in 1999 in a secluded Fort Hood post in Killeen. At the time of the murders, he was 18 years old. He was 40 years old at the time of his execution. While he did not do any killing, he did put Todd and Stacie Bagley in a car and set them afire under the impression that they were both dead. Unfortunately, Bernard’s case is just one of several federal executions taking place in 2020 after a years-long hiatus.

In such a string of executions, one must wonder how the executed were cared for in death. While some people may oppose death care for the executed saying that their punishment should extend into death, others, such as Peter Stefan of Graham, Putnam, and Mahoney Funeral Parlor see bodies as just that: bodies. Peter Stefan buried Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.

Even when Brandon Bernard’s case caught the attention of Kim Kardashian calling him “such a reformed person” and a “master at crochet”, discussions about death care are notably absent from the larger death penalty debate that his case had sparked. This may be due to how the personal nature of death care and how emotions run high in death penalty cases. Such a discussion may come off as insulting to the victim’s family or off-putting to those who have not confronted death-related topics on a less controversial stage. However, a conversation around death care and the death penalty needs to take place in order to better care for the dead and the living.

America’s overall silence on death care has led to this key information being left out of the larger conversation about the death penalty. Discussing these two topics alongside each other will help to better manage the controversial deceased, contextualize the effects of capital punishment, and bring closure to both the victims’ and offenders’ families, both of which need extensive support after an execution takes place.



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