You could miss the Federal Correctional Institution at Terre Haute from the flat strip of State Road 63 along its eastern perimeter. From that remote vantage, its buildings are nondescript, red brick and beige stone rising up on the plains. The Wabash River runs along the campus’s western side, carving a ravine between stands of winter-bare black walnut and white ash. Only upon closer inspection does the shimmer of looping barbed wire emerge, and then the shadows of stadium-style floodlights, dormant in the noonday sun. Signs warn against trespass; armed guards patrol the entrances and exits. This is where all federal executions are carried out, and where Alfred Bourgeois was waiting to die.
Mr. Bourgeois’s was the kind of offense often adduced in advocacy for capital punishment: cruel, senseless, depraved. In 2008, a federal prosecutor opened a pro-death penalty essay in the Texas Tech Law Review with a brief, brutal description of Mr. Bourgeois’s crime. Mr. Bourgeois “systematically tortured and sexually and physically abused his two-year-old daughter, culminating in her murder by ‘grabb[ing] her by her shoulders and slamm[ing] the back of her head’” into the cab of his tractor-trailer in 2002, wrote Richard Roper, formerly the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas.
Jurors attending Mr. Bourgeois’s trial heard more, and worse. Court records show Mr. Bourgeois had a history of domestic violence, extramarital affairs and aggression.
In 2002, Katrina Harrison, a former lover, claimed her 2-year-old daughter, JaKaren, was Mr. Bourgeois’s child. He agreed to a paternity test, which came back positive in May of that year. Immediately after the resulting child support hearing in East Texas, Ms. Harrison sent JaKaren with her father, who set off for Louisiana with the toddler, his two older daughters and his wife, Robin.
Mr. Bourgeois was a truck driver and routinely took his family with him on his routes. For the last month of her life, JaKaren rode along with her father, sisters and stepmother, spending most of her time tied to a training potty. Mr. Bourgeois could not manage her toilet training and beat the girl in frustration with his fists, with electrical cords, with a shoe, with a plastic bat, with a belt. He bit the child, his jurors were told, and once forced her to drink urine from a bottle he used to relieve himself while driving.
Then, on June 27, 2002, Mr. Bourgeois made a delivery at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. While he backed into a loading dock, JaKaren accidentally jostled her potty chair, tipping it over. Incensed, Mr. Bourgeois’s elder daughter testified, he spanked the girl, grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her head into the interior of his truck with such force that witnesses standing outside recalled the vehicle shaking. He then left the toddler, now mortally injured, to finish his work.
His wife pleaded with bystanders to call an ambulance. Mr. Bourgeois told hospital personnel that she had fallen from the truck, but the extent of JaKaren’s injuries belied his story. There was blood behind her eyes, her extremities were swollen, and she was covered in bruises and healing scars, some of them suggesting burns. She died less than 24 hours after arriving at the hospital, and Mr. Bourgeois was arrested. Since the girl was murdered on the military base, the case was tried in federal courts.