When an inmate is placed on death row, it is typically for committing a capital crime, which is defined as “a crime, such as murder or betrayal of one’s country, that is treated so seriously that death may be considered an appropriate punishment.”
Oftentimes, the inmate could be on death row for years, awaiting the actual execution date. This is to give ample time for all of the appeal and habeas corpus procedures to be exhausted. Most prisons that practice capital punishment will allow the inmate a special meal request once the fateful day arrives.
There is not much research available to explain why inmates on death row are afforded the luxury of a lavish final meal. Many people theorize that the states do it to keep the facade that they are more humane than the murderer being executed.
In fact, the Deputy Editor of the Columbia Journalism Review Brent Cunningham wrote a piece on it for the Lapham’s Quarterly, and voiced his opinion on the matter.
“The state, after all, has to distinguish the violence of its punishment from the violence it is punishing, and by allowing a last meal and a final statement,” Cunningham wrote in the quarterly, “a level of dignity and compassion are extended to the condemned that he didn’t show his victims.”
Some death row residents order a typical meal for their final one. For instance, Michael Lannier Pennington was executed in 2005 for the murder of Bradley Thomas Grooms in 1991 in a robbery turned fatal. His last meal request was simply a small vegetarian pizza, a large garden salad with Italian dressing, a hot fudge sundae, a bag of Oreos and a pint of milk.
Many death row inmates take the final meal request as an opportunity to get as much of food that they do not typically get. Kenneth Eugene Turrentine was convicted in 1994 for murdering his girlfriend, her two children and his sister because he suspected them of cheating him out ofmoney and suspected his girlfriend of cheating.
He was executed in 2005 and ordered a unique feast for his last meal. He ordered 10 slices of cheesecake, 10 pieces of fried chicken and 10 pieces of fried catfish.
Harold Loyd McElmurry III had an interesting last meal request after being convicted of murdering Robert and Rose Pendleton in 1999. His execution was in 2003 and his last mean consisted of a Canadian bacon pizza, a pint of chicken livers, cottage cheese and a raw white onion.
Sometimes, the meal is not a strange combination, but is strange because of the circumstances. In May 2001, Steven Woods was found guilty of murdering Ronald Whitehead and Bethena Brosz and was subsequently executed in 2011.
His last meal was a large meat lovers pizza, fried chicken, garlic bread, chicken friend steak, bacon hamburgers, ice cream and soda. The unusual part is not the amount of food he requested, but what he requested; Woods was a selfproclaimed vegetarian.
Thomas J. Grasso was executed for his convictions of strangling an elderly woman with Christmas lights, and killing an elderly man. His last meal request was two-dozen steamed clams and mussels, barbeque spareribs, half of a pumpkin pie with whipped cream and strawberries, a double whopper from Burger King and room temperature SpaghettiOs. Even though he received his weird request, he was not satisfied. He was not happy with the SpaghettiOs. Instead of asking for forgiveness, his final words were to complain about the SpaghettiOs.
“I did not get my SpaghettiOs,” he was recorded saying, “I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.”
One Texas death row inmate’s request put the proverbial nail in the coffin for any future last meal requests. Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of the three convicted for the dragging death of Jasper resident James Byrd, Jr.
His last meal request was a doozie. It consisted of two chicken fried steaks, fried okra, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, three fajitas, a pound of barbeque, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Even though Brewer ordered a feast for a King, he stayed on the level of a peasant and did not eat one morsel. This act of defiance was the reason the state of Texas stopped allowing death row inmates to have last meal requests.