Death row inmate Christopher Vialva was executed Thursday night, making him the first Black person to be executed by the Trump administration as well as the first man in 70 years to be executed for crimes committed as a teenager. Vialva, 40, was convicted in 2000 of killing youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley during a carjacking in Texas when he was just 19 years old in 1999.
Vialva’s lawyer questioned whether the execution truly served justice since she claimed he was the victim of a racist trial. Susan Otto, a federal defender, said Vialva was portrayed as a street gang leader when there was no evidence of that being true.
“Tonight, the federal government took the life of a man for a crime he committed 20 years ago — before he was old enough to manage his trauma or exercise the judgment I watched him develop,” Otto said in a brief statement provided by the ACLU. “Given everything we know about the vast failings of the criminal legal system — poor lawyering, racism, and imbalances of power — we must ask ourselves: Is this justice? This execution has shaken my faith that the federal justice system is worthy of that name.”
The ACLU also provided Vialva’s final words that were given to Otto before his execution Thursday night. He offered and apology to the family of his victims and asked for their forgiveness.
“I have been incarcerated for over 20 years, but those years were not idle time. I have been on a journey of growth and repentance. On that journey, I have often thought of the Bagleys. I know they were special people and I deeply regret my actions. I took your loved ones away from you. Their words are what started me on a path to faith. At the end of the path I found salvation, and the Messiah has now guided my life for over a decade. I have the Bagleys to thank for that. The Bagleys are heroes, and we should rejoice in their heroism. They lived their faith and their faith was an inspiration,” Vialva said.
“To the family of the Bagleys: I apologize for taking two shining lights away from you. I know you love them dearly, and you may feel that what I did was unforgivable. I wouldn’t dare ask for forgiveness. That is too big of a request. However, I am sorry nonetheless, and if ending my life brings you peace then I am glad to end it. I pray the Father blesses your family with His Shalom,” he concluded with.
Vialvo is the seventh inmate executed by the federal government this year. There had been a 17-year pause in executions before U.S. Attorney General William Barr reinstated them last year.
The ACLU provided data showing that there is a good chance that the resumption of federal executions contributed to, if not caused a spike in coronavirus infections, outbreaks and deaths.