|The lawyer for the first Black inmate scheduled to die this year as part of the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions says race played a central role in landing her client on death row for slaying a young white Iowa couple and burning them in the trunk of their car.
One Black juror and 11 white jurors heard the 2000 federal case in Texas against Christopher Vialva, who is now 40 but was 19 at the time of the killings. Prosecutors portrayed Vialva as the leader of a Black street-gang faction and alleged he killed the deeply religious husband and wife, Todd and Stacie Bagley, to boost his status within the gang, attorney Susan Otto said.
But Otto contends there was no evidence Vialva, scheduled to be put to death Thursday, was even a full-fledged member ? let alone a leader ? of the 212 PIRU Bloods gang in his Killeen, Texas, hometown. She said the false claim only served to conjure up menacing stereotypes to prejudice the nearly all-white jury.
“It played right into the narrative that he was a dangerous Black thug who killed these lovely white people. And they were lovely,” Otto said in a recent phone interview. She added: “Race was a very strong component of this case.”
Questions about racial bias in the criminal justice system have been front and center since protests erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.