A condemned prisoner's last meal is a customary part of their last day before execution. Often, the day of or before the appointed time of execution, the prisoner receives a last meal and religious rites, if they desire. In the United States, inmates generally may not ask for an alcoholic drink. Other countries have different traditions, such as the "little glass of rum" granted to the condemned in historical France in the minutes before execution, but no formal last meal is offered as they were told of the impending executions only on the fatal morning, generally minutes before the actual event.
In many countries, the prisoner may, within reason, select what the last meal will be and the authorities do their best to satisfy the request.
In pre-modern Europe, granting the condemned a last meal has roots in superstition in that a meal was a highly symbolic social act. Accepting freely offered food symbolized making peace with the host. The guest agreed tacitly to take an oath of truce and symbolically abjured all vengeance. Consequentially, in accepting the last meal, the condemned was believed to forgive the executioner, the judge, and witness(es). The ritual was supposed to prevent the condemned from returning as a ghost or revenant to haunt those responsible for his or her killing. As a superstitious precaution, the better the food and drink, the safer the condemned's oath of truce. The law of 18th-century England, however, as noted by Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, ca. 1765, made no such concession and stated that "during the short but awful interval between sentence and execution, the prisoner shall be kept alone, and sustained with only bread and water".
The provision of alcohol to the condemned may well have its roots in biblical times: "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts."[Proverbs 31:6] The Talmud instructs that those condemned to death are to be intoxicated before execution is carried out, most likely drawing from this verse.
In the United States, most states give the meal a day or two before execution and use the euphemism "special meal". Alcohol or tobacco are usually denied. Unorthodox or unavailable requests are replaced with substitutes. Some states place tight restrictions. In Florida, the food for the last meal must be purchased locally and the cost is limited to $40. In Oklahoma, cost is limited to $15. In Louisiana, the prison warden traditionally joins the condemned prisoner for the last meal. On one occasion, the warden paid for an inmate's lobster dinner.
Sometimes, a prisoner shares the last meal with another inmate (as Francis Crowley did with John Resko) or has the meal distributed among other inmates (as requested by Raymond Fernandez).
In September 2011, the state of Texas abolished all special last-meal requests after condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge last meal and did not eat any of it, saying he was not hungry. His last-meal request was for a plate of two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half of a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza (topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage), a pint of Blue Bell, a serving of ice cream, a slab of peanut-butterfudge with crushed peanuts, and a serving equivalent to three root beers (normally non-alcoholic). The abolition followed a complaint by a Texas Senator, John Whitmire (Democrat, of Houston), who called the meal "inappropriate". The tradition of customized last meals is thought to have been established around 1924 in Texas.
Documented last meal requests
This represents the items reported requested but does not, in all cases, represent what the prisoner actually received.
Notorious condemned prisoners
Charles Peace: serial killer; UK 1879 – hanging: A breakfast consisting of eggs and a large amount of salty bacon.
Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Düsseldorf, serial killer/rapist; Germany 1931 – Decapitation by guillotine: Wiener schnitzel, fried potatoes and a bottle of white wine. He requested seconds and received it.
Aileen Wuornos: serial killer; executed in Florida in 2002 – lethal injection: declined a special meal, but had a hamburger and other snack food from the prison's canteen. Later, she drank a cup of coffee.
Gary Carl Simmons, Jr.: 1996 murderer; executed in Mississippi in 2012 – Lethal injection: one Pizza Hut medium Super Supreme Deep Dish pizza with double portions of mushrooms, onions, jalapeño peppers, and pepperoni, a second pizza with three cheeses, olives, bell pepper, tomato, garlic, and Italian sausage, 10 8-oz. packs of Parmesan cheese, 10 8-oz. packs of ranch dressing, one family size bag of Doritos nacho cheese flavor, 8 oz. jalapeño nacho cheese, 4 oz. sliced jalapeños, 2 large strawberry shakes, two 20-oz. cherry Cokes, one super-size order of McDonald's fries with extra ketchup and mayonnaise, and two pints of strawberry ice cream. He consumed about half of the meal.
Gary Gilmore: murderer; executed in Utah in 1977 – firing squad: A hamburger, hard-boiled eggs, a baked potato, a few cups of coffee, and three shots of contraband Jack Daniel's whiskey.
John Allen Muhammad: The Beltway Sniper, murder; executed in Virginia in 2009 – lethal injection: Chicken with red sauce and several cakes.
John Wayne Gacy: Serial murderer; executed in Illinois in 1994 – lethal injection: A dozen deep-fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe chicken from KFC, French fries, and a pound of strawberries.
Michael Bruce Ross: serial murder; executed in Connecticut in 2005 – lethal injection: declined a special meal, but dined on the regular prison meal of the day: turkey à la king with rice, mixed vegetables, white bread, fruit, and a beverage.
Rainey Bethea: Murder/Rape, last person executed in public in the US; executed in Kentucky in 1936 – hanged: Fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream.
Ruth Snyder: American murderer photographed in the electric chair; executed in New York in 1928 – electrocution: Chicken Parmesan with alfredo pasta, ice cream, 2 milkshakes, and a 12-pack of grape soda.
Ted Bundy: Serial killer; executed in Florida in 1989 – electrocution: declined a special meal, so he was given (but did not eat) the traditional steak (medium-rare), eggs (over-easy), hash browns, toast, milk, coffee, juice, butter, and jelly.
William Bonin: serial murderer and rapist, executed in California in 1996 – lethal injection: Two pepperoni and sausage pizzas, three servings of chocolate ice cream, and three six-packs of Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Other prisoner requests
Allen Lee Davis, Murder, executed in Florida in 1999: 350-pound "Tiny" Davis had one lobster tail, fried potatoes, a half-pound of fried shrimp, six ounces of fried clams, half a loaf of garlic bread, and 32 ounces of A&W root beer.
Alton Coleman, executed in Ohio in 2002: Well done filet mignon smothered with mushrooms, fried chicken breasts, a salad with French dressing, sweet potato pie with whipped cream, French fries, collard greens, onion rings, cornbread, broccoli with melted cheese, biscuits and gravy, and a cherry Coke.
Andrew Reid Lackey, executed in Alabama in 2013: Turkey bologna, French fries, and grilled cheese.
Ángel Nieves Díaz, murder, executed in Florida in 2006: declined a special meal. He was served the regular prison meal for that day, but declined that as well.
Barton Kay Kirkham, executed in Utah in 1958: Pizzas and ice cream, "because you get cheese, meat and everything in one meal. Not so much fuss."
Brian David Steckel, executed in Delaware in 2005: Cheesesteak, coleslaw, and a Pepsi.
Cal Coburn Brown, executed in Washington State in 2010: Combination meat pizza, apple pie, coffee, and milk.
Charles Starkweather, murder, executed in Nebraska in 1959: declined the usual steak dinner, asking for cold cuts instead.
David Thomas Dawson, executed in Montana in 2006: Two double cheeseburgers, two large servings of French fries, a half gallon of vanilla fudge ripple ice cream, and two Dr. Peppers.
Dennis Wayne Bagwell, executed in Texas in 2005: Medium rare steak with A1 Steak Sauce, fried chicken breasts and thighs, BBQ ribs, French fries, onion rings, bacon, scrambled eggs with onions, fried potatoes with onions, sliced tomatoes, salad with ranch dressing, two hamburgers, peach pie, milk, coffee, and iced tea with real sugar.
Dennis McGuire, executed in Ohio in 2014: Roast beef, fried chicken, fried potatoes, a bagel with cream cheese, a Coke and butter pecan ice cream.
Desmond Keith Carter, executed in North Carolina in 2002, declined a special meal, but had two cheeseburgers, a steak sub, and two Cokes from the prison canteen, for which he paid $4.20 from his prison account.
Douglas Franklin Wright, executed in Oregon in 1996: One honeybun.
Edward Hartman, executed in North Carolina in 2003: A Greek salad, linguini with white clam sauce, cheesecake with cherry topping, garlic bread, and a Coke.
Edward Schad, executed in Arizona in 2013: A footlong meatball sub, a large order of french fries with catsup, two ears of corn on the cob, two ounces of cranberry sauce, a slice of apple pie, and a vanilla milkshake.
Eric Nance, executed in Arkansas in 2005: Two bacon cheeseburgers, french fries, two pints of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and two Coca Colas.
Eric Wrinkles, executed in Indiana in 2009: Prime rib, a "loaded" baked potato, pork chops with steak fries, rolls and two salads with ranch dressing, served three days before execution because Indiana State Prison system found that condemned inmates tend to lose their appetite near the end.
Francis Crowley, executed in New York in 1932: Steak and onions, French fries, apple pie, ice cream and melted ice cream.
Gary Lee Davis, executed in Colorado in 1997: Chocolate and vanilla ice cream cups, shared with the prison superintendent and a manager.
John David Duty, executed in Oklahoma in 2010: A double cheeseburger with mayonnaise, a foot-long hot dog with cheese, mustard and extra onions, a cherry limeade, and a large banana shake.
Joseph Paul Franklin, executed in Missouri in 2013: Declined the traditional last meal, but had a lunch of roast beef and potatoes.
Joseph Mitchell Parsons, executed in Utah in 1999: Three Burger King Whoppers, two large orders of fries, a chocolate shake, chocolate chip ice cream, and a package of grape Hubba Bubba bubblegum, to be shared with his brother and a cousin.
Joseph Taborsky, executed in Connecticut in 1960: Banana split, cherry soda, coffee with cream and sugar, and a pack of cigarettes.
Keith Zettlemoyer, executed in Pennsylvania in 1995: Two cheeseburgers, fries, chocolate pudding and chocolate milk.
Lawrence Russell Brewer, executed in Texas in 2011: Two chicken fried steaks smothered in gravy with sliced onions; a triple meat bacon cheeseburger with fixings on the side; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a large bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecue with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas with fixings; a Meat Lovers pizza; three root beers; one pint of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream; and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Brewer's request was granted, but he refused the meal when it arrived, prompting Texas to stop granting last meal requests to condemned inmates.
Paul Ezra Rhoades, executed in Idaho in 2011: Hot dogs, sauerkraut, baked beans, veggie sticks, fruit with gelatin and strawberry ice cream cups.
Philip Workman, executed in Tennessee in 2007: Declined a special meal for himself, but he asked for a large vegetarian pizza to be given to a homeless person in Nashville, Tennessee. This request was denied by the prison, but carried out by others across the country.
Martha Beck, executed in New York in 1951: Fried chicken, fried potatoes and salad.
Raymond Fernandez, executed in New York in 1951: an onion omelet, french fries, chocolate candy, and a Cuban cigar.
Ricky Ray Rector, executed in Arkansas in 1992: Steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid, and a pecan pie. Rector, rendered mentally incapacitated by his suicide attempt after murdering a police officer, said that he did not eat the pie because he was saving it for later.
Richard Kiefer, murder, executed in Indiana in 1961: fried chicken, french fries, banana cream pie and vanilla ice cream.
Robert Alton Harris, executed in California in 1992: A 21-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, two large Domino's Pizzas (no anchovies), ice cream, a bag of jelly beans, a six-pack of Pepsi, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. The pizza was actually a Tombstone Pizza, per Vernell Crittendon's orders. Crittendon worked at the prison and was responsible for dealing with the condemned person before his execution.
Ronald Clark O'Bryan, executed in Texas in 1984: T-bone steak (medium to well done), French fries with ketchup, whole kernel corn, sweet peas, a lettuce and tomato salad with egg and French dressing, iced tea, sweetener, saltines, Boston cream pie, and rolls.
Terry Douglas Clark, executed in New Mexico in 2001: Jumbo shrimps, French fries, fried okra, peach cobbler, ice cream, and a Coke.
Terry Jess Dennis, executed in Nevada in 2004: Two cheeseburgers and a Coke with ice.
Jayne Shirley MacMillen, executed in Texas in 1996: Coffee with milk and sugar, a vegetarian burger with avocado, tomato, and lettuce, french fries, raspberry cheesecake, a bottle of Alexander Keith's IPA, and a pack of cigarettes.
Thomas J. Grasso, executed in Oklahoma in 1995: two dozen steamed mussels, two dozen steamed clams, a double cheeseburger from Burger King, half-dozen barbecued spare ribs, two strawberry milkshakes, half a pumpkin pie with whipped cream with diced strawberries and a 16-ounce can of spaghetti with meatballs, served at room temperature. However, he issued a public statement complaining that he had requested SpaghettiOs, not spaghetti.
Troy Davis, executed in Georgia in 2011, declined a special meal, explaining that "this meal will not be my last".
^Meserve, Jeanne; Mike M. Ahlers (11 November 2009). "Sniper John Allen Muhammad executed". Jarratt, Virginia: CNN. Retrieved 2 October 2010. "The lawyer said Muhammad's last meal was "chicken and red sauce, and he had some cakes."
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