Texas kills fancy last meal requests on death row

SAN ANTONIO Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:14pm EDT

Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulpher Springs, Texas,shown in a picture released by the authorities June 9, is one of three suspects in the James Byrd, Jr. murder case. REUTERS/Handout

Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulpher Springs, Texas,shown in a picture released by the authorities June 9, is one of three suspects in the James Byrd, Jr. murder case.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The Texas prison system on Thursday abolished the time-honored tradition of offering an opulent last meal to condemned inmates before their executions, saying they would get standard prison fare instead.

"Enough is enough," state Senator John Whitmire wrote on Thursday to prison officials, prompting the move. "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."

The letter was in apparent response to the dinner requested, but not eaten, by white supremacist Lawrence Brewer before he was put to death on Wednesday night for a notorious 1998 killing in which James Byrd Jr., a black man, was dragged behind a truck for several miles.

Brewer requested an elaborate meal that included a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a meat-lover's pizza, a big bowl of okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecue, a half a loaf of bread, peanut butter fudge, a pint of ice cream and two chicken-fried steaks.

When it arrived around 4 p.m. at Brewer's cell, he declined it all, telling prison officials he was not hungry.

Whitmire, who chairs the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, threatened legislation if the prison system did not end the practice, which rarely results in the inmate getting exactly what is requested anyway.

Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, replied that Whitmire's concerns were valid and the practice would halt immediately.

The prisoners will be served "the same meal served to other offenders," 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 Center. 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.

"I am totally opposed to capital punishment, but I certainly don't understand the logic of a last meal, and the way it's turned into such a show," said Jim Harrington, who heads the Texas Civil Rights Project, .

Texas executes four times more inmates than the rest of the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and last meals ordered by inmates have run the gamut.

James Edward Smith, who was executed in Texas in 1990, requested "a lump of dirt." Odell Barnes, executed in 2000, requested "justice, equality and world peace."

(Editing by Karen Brooks, Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (9)
nagyja wrote:
The reason you give a man on death row a last meal is its one more thing to show what is done for the people is about justice and not revenge. Revenge is ruthless, justice is done with compassion for the victim and even a degree of compassion for the person being punished. It says “we, society are better than you, because we will afford you something you did not give your victim.”

Sep 22, 2011 8:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SacTu wrote:
I was agreeing with the legislation initially, but after reading your comment (nagya), I would have to agree. Sure, it may not seem right in a sense that we give these vile people such treatment, but if we are to kill them as they killed others, we need to show at least one thing that makes us different.

Sep 22, 2011 9:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it… but another possible way of reconciling your moral superiority as someone who doesn’t maim and kill, is to deny those spitting on their humanity (and ours) with one moment of solace. In respect for the deceased, not as vengeance. My take. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the luxurious “last meal” was with good decent rationale as you summarized. Just the same, it’s about the living, namely, the victim’s families and friends who may take symbolic offense to such a platitude you described. It’s about they, the living, at this sad juncture in time when execution arrives.

Sep 22, 2011 9:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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