Texas State Senator Kills Rule Allowing Death Row Inmates To Request Their Last Meal

State Sen. John Whitmire (D)

While anti-death penalty advocates around the world focused on the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia Wednesday night, the state of Texas went about quietly executing Lawrence Brewer. Brewer was convicted of murdering James Byrd, whom Brewer dragged to death behind his pickup truck in 1998.

Before he was executed, Brewer, like all of Texas’ death row inmates, was able to request his last meal. Brewer made the most of that request, asking for 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 half a loaf of white bread. Brewer’s last meal incensed Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, a long-time senator who is particularly influential on prison issues. Calling the last meal request an “extremely inappropriate” privilege that “the perpetrator did not provide to their victim,” Whitmire wrote a letter to the Texas Criminal Justice Division asking it to end the practice, Houston Press reports:

Whitmire wrote to the executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Division that he had long opposed the practice, and “enough is enough.” […] “I am asking you to end this practice immediately or I am prepared to do so by statute next session,” he wrote.

Whitmire won’t have to end the practice by statute, because the Criminal Justice Division relented Thursday afternoon, with Executive Director Brad Livingston saying in a statement:

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.

What Whitmire hopes to accomplish by denying death row inmates a final meal of their request is unclear. The last meal, however ridiculous it may sometimes be, is a traditional ritual on death row, and seems a small issue in the process of the state-sanctioned taking of a human life. It seems the state of Texas, which has executed more people than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, is seeking ways to make its penal system even more cruel than it already is. But given the questionable nature of many of the state’s executions, which include juveniles, the mentally ill, and the potentially innocent, the real tragedy is that the death penalty still exists at all.