Death Row: Texas Scraps Last Meal Requests
America’s most prolific state for Death Row executions has abolished the time-honoured tradition of allowing convicts to choose their last meal.
Texas scrapped the 87-year-long privilege after officials were enraged by a request from recently executed white supremacist Lawrence Brewer.
In addition to the steaks, the omelette and fried okra, Brewer asked for a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, three fajitas, one pound of barbecue meat, half a loaf of white bread, a meat feast pizza special, one pint of “homemade vanilla” Blue Bell ice cream, one slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts and three root beers.
When the meal arrived at Brewer’s cell at around 4pm on Wednesday he declined it all, telling prison officials he was not hungry.
The request and his refusal to eat the food prompted state senator John Whitmire to demand the end of the tradition for good.
“Enough is enough,” Senator Whitmire wrote in a letter to prison officials.
“It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege. It’s a privilege which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim.”
Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, agreed to halt the practice immediately.
The prisoners will be served “the same meal served to other offenders”, Mr Livingston’s statement said.
Most states that have the death penalty allow last-meal requests, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Centre.
Some allow the inmate to choose from a menu, others have cost restrictions or say they must be ordered locally.
Anti-death penalty activists were not bothered by the Texas move, saying the tradition always made the prison system look more merciful than it is.
Jim Harrington, who heads the Texas Civil Rights Project , described the grand last-meal tradition itself as “shameful”.
And Brian Evans of Amnesty International added: “The cruelty of the whole process is much larger than whether you get to pick the last meal that you eat.”
Texas executes four times more inmates than the rest of the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.
Prisoners in the past have requested a full range of last meals – from the opulent to the bizarre.
James Edward Smith, who was executed in Texas in 1990, asked for “a lump of dirt” while Odell Barnes, executed in 2000, requested “justice, equality and world peace”.
Gerald Mitchell, who was executed in 2001, wanted a bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers hard candy.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Wayne Nobles, executed in 1998, ordered the Eucharist sacrament.
In Florida in 1989, Ted Bundy had steak, eggs, hash browns and coffee, according to the Last Meals Project , an online archive of famous inmates’ last meals.
Meanwhile Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, executed in Indiana in 2001 , ordered mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Most death row last meal requests have been routine, though they are often large. Prison officials say ribs, enchiladas and ice cream are common requests.
The prison is not required to honour an inmate’s request for a last meal, but provide it – or something close – if the ingredients are on hand in the prison kitchens.
Filet mignon sometimes shows up in the cell as a hamburger patty, and lobster tails might morph into fish sticks by the time the prison sees them.
Requests for alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs are routinely denied.
Instead of the lump of dirt, which Smith said he wanted to perform a “voodoo ritual,” he got a small container of yogurt.