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US executes first Black federal inmate in more than 17 years

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has executed a Black inmate for the first time since the federal death penalty was resumed this year after a 17-year-pause. Christopher Vialva, 40, died by lethal injection on Thursday for a double murder he committed when he was 19. 

Vialva was pronounced dead at 6:46 p.m. in Terre Haute, Indiana, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Vialva was sentenced to death in 2000, after being convicted for carjacking, first degree murder on a government reservation, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy to commit murder, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

Federal Executions
This undated image taken from video provided by attorney Susan Otto shows Christopher Vialva in the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Susan Otto / AP

The crime in question occurred in 1999, when an Iowa couple, Todd and Stacie Bagley, agreed to give Vialva and two others a ride in Killeen, Texas, according to The Associated Press. At some point, Vialva pulled out a gun and forced the couple into the trunk of the car, authorities said. He then drove around for several hours, withdrew cash from ATMs and tried to pawn the female victim's wedding ring. Vialva later shot the couple in the head and set the car on fire, The AP reported. 

Vialva practiced Messianic Judaism, according to Reuters. His last words were a call to God to comfort the families of the couple he had killed, according to a reporter serving as a media witness at the execution.

"Father...heal their hearts with grace and love," he said. "I'm ready, father." 

Another man who was convicted in the incident, Brandon Bernard, also received a death sentence. His execution date has not been set. 

Vialva was the seventh person to be federally executed this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last time six or more people were killed in a single year was in 1942, according to Reuters.

Vialva's attorney, Susan Otto, has said Vialva's race played a part in his sentence, according to the Associated Press. Black people make up nearly half of the 56 inmates currently on federal death row, The AP reported

In a report published last week, the Death Penalty Information Center concluded that Black defendants are significantly more likely to be executed than White defendants are for murdering people of another race. Since 1977, 295 Black defendants were executed for murdering a White victim, while 21 White defendants were executed for murdering a Black victim, the report found. 

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