TERRE HAUTE (AP) — The U.S. government has put the first Black inmate to death since the Trump administration this year resumed federal executions after a nearly two-decade pause.
Christopher Vialva, 40, was pronounced dead shortly before 7 p.m. EDT Thursday.
He was convicted and sentenced to death in the slaying of a religious couple visiting Texas from Iowa when Vialva was 19.
Vialva was the seventh federal execution since July and the second this week. Five of the first six were white, a move critics argue was a political calculation to avoid uproar. The sixth was Navajo.
Vialva's lawyer, Susan Otto, has said race played a role in landing her client on death row in the 1999 killings of Todd and Stacie Bagley, who were white.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson issued the following statement on the execution:
Today, Christopher Andre Vialva was executed at U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in accordance with the capital sentences recommended by a federal jury and imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in 2000. Vialva was pronounced dead at 6:46 p.m. EDT.
In June 1999, Todd and Stacie Bagley — youth ministers from Iowa who had traveled to Texas to attend a church revival — agreed to give a ride to Vialva and several others. Once in the car, Vialva pointed a gun at Todd, and he and the others forced the couple into the trunk. Vialva drove around for several hours, stopping at ATMs to withdraw money from the couple’s bank account and trying to pawn Stacie’s wedding ring. While locked in the trunk, the couple spoke with their abductors about God and pleaded for their lives. Vialva eventually parked on the Fort Hood military reservation, where the co-conspirators doused the car with lighter fluid as the couple, still locked in the trunk, sang and prayed. After Stacie said, “Jesus loves you,” and “Jesus, take care of us,” Vialva shot both Todd and Stacie in the head — killing Todd and knocking Stacie unconscious. A co-conspirator then lit the car on fire, killing Stacie. A federal jury found Vialva guilty of, among other offenses, two counts of murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and unanimously recommended two death sentences, which the court imposed. His convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal, and his requests for collateral relief were rejected by every court that considered them.
More than two decades after Christopher Andre Vialva brutally ended the lives of Todd and Stacie Bagley, justice has been served. Several family members and loved ones of the Bagleys witnessed today’s execution.