Texas Ends Last Meal Tradition After Brewer Execution

It has long been a tradition to give a dying man his last requests for dinner. Lawrence Brewer took that request to an extreme, ordering a meal fit for an entire cellblock. That produced a backlash from state Senator John Whitmire who demanded an end to the tradition in Texas. He succeeded and now death row inmates will simply get whatever is served that night at the prison.

“Enough is enough,” Whitmire insisted, “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.”

Brewer was a man below contempt to be sure. The white supremacist was convicted in the notorious 1998 killing in which James Byrd Jr., a black man, was dragged behind a truck for several miles.

However, the tradition of the last meal has long represented an element of mercy in the application of the death penalty. I must admit that I was taken aback by the account of what Brewer ordered when I first read: two chicken fried steaks, a triple meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet, a large bowl of fried okra, three fajitas, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, and a pound of barbecue with a half loaf of white bread. However, the value of such a meal is likely less than $20 at a prison facility. In states like Florida, such meals are limited to a maximum value of $40.

The last meal offers a small modicum of comfort to someone about to be executed. Some believe the last meal reflects the last supper of Christ while others trace back the tradition to an expression of reconciliation of the condemned (by accepting the meal he forgives the executioner or state). Others believed it quieted the soul of the condemned and prevented him from returning as a ghost.

Whatever the reason, this is one of the longest standing tradition in the world. It is not a reflection of a sense of guilt for the execution but of a sense of mercy of society. Even the Israelis gave Adolf Eichmann a final wish for the meal (he asked for a red wine). It has been recognized as a gesture of mercy for centuries of condemned people from Ancient Greece to present time, but no longer in Texas.

Brad Livingston right), executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, issued this statement in response to Whitmire (left): “I believe Senator Whitmire’s concerns regarding the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their last meal are valid. Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made. They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit.”

It is a gratuitous act of denial by the state that deprives a condemned man a small measure of comfort before an execution.

Update: A former prison chef as offered to make last meals for free to preserve this tradition. Despite this commendable offer, the decision appears more based on retributionist and budgetary concerns.
Source: Chronicle

41 thoughts on “Texas Ends Last Meal Tradition After Brewer Execution”

  1. ARE, I am afraid I have to agree. I was in Texas in 2005. Some Texans I met, who had somehow been able to preserve part of their minds and stay somewhat rational, referred to their government as “The Thugs.” They said, by the way, that there were government “kills” that were never related to trials or convictions. One man who apparently discovered or invented something that would have negatively affected the oil industry just got taken to the emergency room one night described as “incoherent” and oops, he got an i.v. and croaked. He had no wife or children but some friends or relatives wanted to check in and have an autopsy performed but guess what? Some orders had been mixed up with other orders and the wrong this and that happened and the body was unfortunately cremated — and so, cause of death was marked down as cardiac arrest. He was in his 40s and not sick. I can’t even remember his name. This was in Dallas. They’re psychos.

    1. I live in Houston and so I don’t much care for Dallas. At least Houston still has the old Texas spirit of neighborlyness. and most of the folks are pretty decent. Unfortunately, the wealth and power all reside in Dallas which has the Nazi psychos running around. Notice where W Bush retired to, Dallas, and he hasn’t set foot on his Potemkin “ranch” since he left office.

  2. The thing about the Texas death penalty that amazes me every single time is the stupidity of the defenses you will hear when you PROVE that they killed an innocent person! I heard the prosecutor say, with respect to one of their victims (who was innocent), that he deserved to die because he cursed his ex-wife while he was in the death chamber, about to be killed. SHE had turned on him after insisting, at first, that he must be innocent. (She turned on him after he was on death row several years and she had another guy.)

    The comment made was words to the effect of: “What kind of a person would say something like that?”

    My answer was: “A person about to be put to death who had not committed any crime, that’s what kind.”

    The very idea of the officials in Texas failing to feel shame is so shocking to me that I can’t fit it into my ideas about humanity. Are they ALL psychopaths?

    1. Just look at Rick Perry and you have your answer. YES they are psychos!

      It got to be even too much for W Bush when he was Guv. One person from our area had been convicted and sentenced to long years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. They got a DNA test done, and PROVED he was not the one. The Chief Justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals joined the majority in upholding his conviction by saying he must have used a condom. Bush granted the poor guy a pardon since he was slightly more rational than Sharon Keller who is nuts.

  3. Malisha, I wonder if they use an alcohol swab before putting in the IV needle.

  4. I would have made it possible for the condemned man to have his requested last meal so long as it did not include more than 16 oz. of a sugary soft drink.

    Some stuff is just too important to ignore!

  5. “Again, I had to look up another word…..Koan…..”


    Using a koan is a Zen Buddhist method of teaching and also of determining how far a student has progressed. My favorite zen story is this, which I’ll make brief.

    At a famous old monastery the Abbot sensing the approach of death must name a successor. He gathers everyone in the monastery together, including the support staff no matter how low their position. He has a plain earthenware vase placed at his feet and says: “the man who can correctly describe the essence of this vase, will be the new Abbot. In turn, first from those Monks of the highest rank, each comes up to describe the vases essence and fails. All their descriptions are long and flowery. Next comes the help staff also in rank of status and all fail to describe the vases essence to the Abbot. they fail. Finally, a dishwasher from the kitchen is the last one to be called on to show the vases’ essence. He approaches the vase, studies it for a second and then smashes it with a kick. He is then made the Abbot and goes on to a long and distinguished career as a revered Zen adept.

  6. A. R. E. said, “I guess that the condemned should also be allowed to put off the execution until he finishes the meal too? It would be a back door way to end the penalty.”

    I once saw an episode of the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits or something similar, in which a condemned prisoner was eating and confiding to a guard that – through some feat of magic – he’d been assured that he wouldn’t be killed as long as he kept eating his final meal. As the camera zoomed in on his plate, he lamented, “I just wish I had the imagination to ask for something other than baked beans!”

  7. According to the Associated Press:

    “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’.”

    I once heard a Jewish Prison Chaplain interviewed about attending executions. He was asked if he could remember any lavish or unusual last requests. He said the only thing he remembered about last meals was that he never saw one finished.

  8. The abolition of the last meal shows the inability of justice to react correspondent to the isolated case.

    Why is this last act of grace abrogated only because single death row inmates milked it alleged incorrect?

    I love the USA. I like the contact to two dear internet pen pals who live in Texas. I would like to be an American too. I am a 50yo old German jugde. But I speak from deep conviction: The use of death penalty is barbaric – that new regulation is an evidence of incapacity. A murderer does not make it possible that the victim contacts a cleric. When will this act of grace been forbidden death row inmates in Texas?

    Best wishes cross the pond.

  9. AY:

    “mespo, you are correct….So what is the great topic going to be today?”


    Porn king Larry Flynt. What else for a Saturday morning?

  10. mespo, you are correct….So what is the great topic going to be today?


    Again, I had to look up another word…..Koan…..

    which means “a nonsensical or paradoxical question to a student for which an answer is demanded, the stress of meditation on the question often being il nonsensical or paradoxical question to a student for which an answer is demanded, the stress of meditation on the question often being illuminating.”

    Don’t we all at some point in our lives…..

  11. rafflaw,

    I will say that so long the legislature is in session….Not a one has to open his wallet….I hear tell that LBJ never carried a wallet….

  12. One would think that with Texas being the death penalty capitol of the U. S. that crime would never occur there. Yet, it seems that some of the most heinous crimes happen there. What gives?

    As for Brewer, leave it up to a White supremacist asshole to make it bad for everyone else. Vindictive to the end.

  13. It’s really not about how the worst of the worst behave…it’s about how we (and that starts with ‘I’), behave, and that includes how we treat them. They have already been judged.

    In regards to mercy I will add this:

    A statement from UU ministers of the North GA region on the Troy Davis Execution.

    by UUCA – Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta on Friday, September 23, 2011 at 11:45am

    Our hearts are torn. We are proud to live in a nation where Officer Macphail was willing to put his life in danger in order to protect a homeless person. And we are ashamed to live a nation where Troy Davis was executed in the face of so much doubt. With spirits worn low, we offer the following prayer:

    Spirit of Life and Love,

    forgive us for not having the strength or wisdom to stop the state of Georgia from committing premeditated killing in our names;

    forgive us for permitting our society to kill a jailed unarmed man and call it justice;

    forgive us for tolerating a judicial system that, at all levels, renders decisions that are neither reasonable nor merciful;

    forgive us for allowing the voices of Jesus Christ, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and others to be drowned out by grief, vengeance, ideology and political pandering;

    forgive us for sacrificing the life of Troy Davis in the hope that our communities, our state, and our nation will find the resolve to say “never again.”

    With broken hearts, but with resurgent spirits that we shall overcome,

    Rev. Jeff Jones, Unitarian Universalist Minister, Marietta, GA

    Rev. Anthony David, Senior Minister, UU Congregation of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA

    Rev. Dr. Barry T. Whittemore, Minister, Georgia Mountains UU Church, Dahlonega, GA

    Rev. Marti Keller, Minister, UU Congregation of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA

    Rev. Paul D. Daniel, Minister, UU Metro Atlanta North Congregation, Roswell, GA

    Rev. Jeff Briere, Minister, UU Church of Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN

    Rev. Dr. Morris Hudgins, Interim Minister, Northwest UU Congregation, Sandy Springs, GA

    Rev. Rhett D. Baird, Minister, High Street UU Church, Macon, GA

    Rev. Dr. Edward Frost, Senior Minister Emeritus, UU Congregation of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA

    Norm Horofker, Candidate for Ministry, UU Fellowship of Columbus, Columbus, GA

  14. AY:

    I think you’re right. Personally, I ‘d have donated the food to the local homeless shelter, and just let it ride. Seems the State was upset because it looked bad in giving him the food in the first place. Does it really matter? Seems they got their pound of flesh in return.

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