If I was on Death Row and offered my choice of last meal, it would be crispy NZ lamb chops on a bed of creamy mash, peas and gravy. But I can no longer ask. The last meal request has been removed from US jails.
Texas death row inmates will no longer get their choice of last meals, after the menu request of a man condemned for a notorious hate crime slaying left a bad taste in the mouth of a prominent senator.
Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed on Wednesday, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound (450 grams) of barbecue meat, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts.
Prison officials said Brewer didn’t eat any of it.
Brewer, a white supremacist gang member, was convicted of chaining James Byrd Jr, 49, to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death along a bumpy road in 1998.
Brewer’s dinner request prompted Senator John Whitmire to demand the end of the practice in a letter to Brad Livingston, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege,” Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote in the letter on Thursday.
Within hours, Livingston said the senator’s concerns were valid and the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their final meal was history.
“Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made,” Livingston said.
“They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit.”
That had been the suggestion from Whitmire, who called the traditional request “ridiculous”.
“It’s long overdue,” the Houston Democrat told The Associated Press.
“Mr Byrd didn’t get to choose his last meal. The whole deal is so illogical.”
Whitmire warned in his letter that if the “last meal of choice” practice wasn’t stopped immediately, he’d seek a state statute to end it when congress convened in the next legislative session.
It was not immediately clear whether other states have made similar moves.
Some limit the final meal cost – Florida’s maximum is $US40 ($A41.10), according to the Department of Corrections website, with food to be purchased locally.
Others, like Texas, which never had a designated dollar limit, mandate meals be prison-made.
Some states don’t acknowledge final meals, and others will disclose the information only if the inmate agrees, said K William Hayes, a Florida-based death penalty historian.
Some states require the meal within a specific time period, allow multiple “final” meals, restrict it to one or impose “a vast number of conditions”, he said.
Since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982, the state correction agency’s practice has been to fill a condemned inmate’s request as long as the items, or food similar to what was requested, were readily available from the prison kitchen supplies.
While extensive, Brewer’s request was far from the largest or most bizarre among the 475 Texas inmates put to death.
On Tuesday, prisoner Cleve Foster’s request included two fried chickens, French fries and a five-gallon (19-litre) bucket of peaches.
He received a reprieve from the US Supreme Court but none of his requested meal. He was on his way back to death row, at a prison about 70 kilometres east of Huntsville, at the time when his feast would have been served.
Last week, inmate Steven Woods’ request included two pounds (one kilogram) of bacon, a large four-meat pizza, four fried chicken breasts, two drinks each of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, root beer and sweet tea, two pints (1 litre) of ice cream, five chicken fried steaks, two hamburgers with bacon, fries and a dozen garlic bread sticks with marinara on the side.
Two hours later, he was executed.
Years ago, a Texas inmate even requested dirt for his final meal.
Until 2003, the Texas prison system listed final meals of each prisoner as part of its death row website.
That stopped at 313 final meals after officials said they received complaints from people who found it offensive.
A former inmate cook who made the last meals for prisoners at the Huntsville Unit, where Texas executions are carried out, wrote a cookbook several years ago after he was released.
Among his recipes were Gallows Gravy, Rice Rigor Mortis and Old Sparky’s Genuine Convict Chili, a nod to the electric chair that once served as the execution method. The book was called Meals to Die For.