What Death Row Inmates' Last Meals Say About Guilt or Innocence

Odell Barnes, a 31-year-old black male, was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering his lover, Helen Bass, in Texas. The case was based on the testimony of a sole witness who said he saw Barnes fleeing Bass's home on the night of the stabbing. The evidence was considered so weak that Barnes became a poster child for the anti-execution movement.

Just before his execution, and still claiming innocence, Barnes was asked what he wanted for his last meal. He answered:

"Justice, equality, world peace."

Sometimes, the requested last menu has seemed more sarcastic than conciliatory.

Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that claimed 168 lives, was executed in 2001 after eating two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream.

Controversy over the last meal can linger long after the execution. One of the most famous examples involved Ricky Ray Rector, who shot and killed a police officer in Arkansas and then tried to blow his own brains out. He survived with what amounted to a "frontal lobotomy," which many claimed left him mentally unfit to stand trial.

He specifically asked for a slice of pecan pie as part of his last meal, but he didn't eat it, apparently thinking he would enjoy it after the execution. Many still argue that showed he was incompetent and "did not understand his fate," as one scholar put it.

Ignoring appeals from Pope Benedict XVI and former President Jimmy Carter, as well as thousands of others, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia in 2011 for killing an off-duty police officer. Davis, like others, used his opportunity to request a special meal to make a statement:

"This meal will not be my last," he said.

One condemned man eliminated the opportunity for others in his situation to ask for any special meal at all.

Lawrence Russell Brewer asked for two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover's pizza, ice cream, peanuts and on and on. When the meal arrived, he declined it, saying he wasn't hungry.

The stunt so angered Texas authorities that the last-meal tradition was abolished in 2011.

Murderer Gary Gilmore got something that is denied to most inmates: three shots of whiskey. He died by firing squad in Utah in 1977.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted of kidnapping and killing Charles Lindberg's baby, may have had more accusers, and defenders, than any other defendant in American history. Many, including Hauptmann, insisted he was innocent, and he went to the chair believing he would be spared. He had been told he would, if he just confessed to the crime.

He didn't, and he died, after his special, curious meal of celery, olives, chicken, French fries, buttered peas, cherries and cake.

None, however, was better at rubbing salt in the wounds than Adolph Eichmann, the Holocaust mass murderer of World War II. His last meal:

A bottle of Carmel, a dry red wine from Israel.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 22429112.
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...