Teen killer who burned religious couple alive as they sang in car to be executed

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A former teen gang member who killed a youth pastor and his wife after locking them in their own car boot is to be executed 21 years after the horrific killings.

Brandon Bernard was just 19 when he and two accomplices kidnapped Todd and Stacie Bagley from Fort Hood, Iowa, in 1999.

According to court records, the three youths, from Killeen, Texas, were looking for someone to rob when they found Todd using a convenience store payphone.

He agreed to give them a ride in his car — but during the journey Bernard's accomplice Christopher Vialva pulled out a gun and ordered the couple to get into the boot, chillingly saying: "Plans have changed."

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The youths locked the Bagleys inside after stealing their money, jewellery and ATM card. They then spent several hours driving around looking for a place to pawn Stacie's wedding ring.

During the time they spent in the trunk, the Bagleys could be heard pleading for their lives and telling their kidnappers to embrace Christianity.

Both husband and wife, who were aged 26 and 28 respectively, worked as youth ministers.

After withdrawing $100 from Todd's card and spending it on fast food and cigarettes, Vialva pulled to the side of the road in an isolated area and poured lighter fluid inside the vehicle.

As they did so, the Bagleys began singing "Jesus Loves Us" from the trunk.

Vialva then opened the boot and shot both Bagleys in the head. Stacie Bagley, prosecutors said at trial, was still alive as flames engulfed the car.

Bernard then set the car on fire, with an autopsy showing that Stacie died from smoke inhalation.

He was found guilty of murder in 2000 by a jury in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, and subsequently placed on death row.

The justice department on Friday scheduled a December 10 execution at Terre Haute, Indiana – which will be the ninth the federal government has carried out in 2020.

Bernard's attorney, Robert Owen, said in a statement the federal government misled the jury who found his client guilty 20 years ago.

Its decision was tainted by false testimony, Owen said.

"This evidence confirms that Mr. Bernard is simply not one of the 'worst of the worst' offenders for whom we reserve the death penalty, and that sparing his life would pose no risk to anyone," Owen said.

Vialva became the first black man to suffer the federal death penalty since the punishment resumed earlier this summer after a 17-year hiatus when he was executed by lethal injection last month.

In a last statement, Vialva, aged 40, asked God to comfort the families of the couple he had killed, saying, "Father… heal their hearts with grace and love."

His final words were: "I'm ready, Father."

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