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When a person accused of a crime is convicted and sentenced to capital punishment, the person can make a final statement, or express their "last words", before being executed. Much of the time, the last word is an apology to family, friends, or God. Sometimes though, a final statement includes words of hatred, disgust, or defiance. In the era of public hangings, the gallows speech was often an opportunity to harangue the authorities and seek the sympathy of the crowd; some political criminals enhanced their status as martyrs with memorable gallows speeches.
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
- Arthur Gary Bishop: "I want to offer again my most profound and heartfelt apologies to my victims' families. I am truly sorry. I have tried my best to empathize with their grief and devastation and I hope they come to know of my concerns and prayers for them."
- One of the first convicts transported in Australia by the British Empire, nicknamed after the pirate Black Caesar, escaped the penal colony in 1789 and lived as a bushranger in the wilderness. He survived by raiding garden patches with a stolen gun. When he was eventually caught, according to colonial governor David Collins he was "so indifferent about meeting death, that he declared in confinement that if he should be hanged he would create a laugh before he was turned off, by playing some trick upon the executioner."
- Ted Bundy: "Give my love to my family and friends."
- Robert Erskine Childers: (Facing a firing squad) "Take a step or two closer, lads. It will be easier that way."
- Lena Baker: "What I done, I did in self-defense, or I would have been killed myself. Where I was I could not overcome it. God has forgiven me. I have nothing against anyone. I picked cotton for Mr. Pritchett, and he has been good to me. I am ready to go. I am one in the number. I am ready to meet my God. I have a very strong conscience."
- Charles Deen: "I am going now."
- Edgar Edwards: (To the chaplain, on the way to the scaffold) "I've been looking forward to this a lot!"
- Edward Ellis: "I just want everybody to know that I think the prosecutor and Bill Scott [a fellow inmate who testified against Ellis] are some sorry s.o.bs."
- Murderer James French has been attributed with famous last words before his death by electric chair: "How's this for a headline? 'French Fries'." Likewise, when a Jewish mob boss George Appel was electrocuted, his last words were: "Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel."
- John Wayne Gacy: "Kiss my ass."
- Johnny Garrett: "I'd like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me, and the rest of the world can kiss my ass."
- Kenneth Edward Gentry: "Thank the Lord for the past 14 years that have allowed me to grow as a man. To J.D.’s family, I am sorry for the suffering you have gone through the past 14 years. I hope you can get some peace tonight. To my family, I am happy to be going home to Jesus. Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I am going your way."
- Gary Gilmore: "Let's do it!", before being executed by firing squad. Gilmore is also oft-quoted as saying a few minutes earlier, as he walked past the Hi-Fi Murderers on his way to be executed was: "Adios, Pierre and Andrews. I'll be seeing you directly."
- G.W. Green: (Echoing Gary Gilmore) "Lock and load. Let's do it, man."
- Roosevelt Green: "I am about to die for a murder I did not commit, that someone else committed ... I love the Lord and hope that God takes me into his kingdom, and goodbye, [M]other."
- Irma Grese: "Schnell." (English translation: Quick, get it over.")
- Donald Eugene Harding: Declined to make a final statement, but signaled the executioner to get started. His asphyxiation in the gas chamber took 11 minutes before death was finally confirmed, and Harding spent his last moments cursing Arizona's state attorney general Grant Woods and giving him the middle finger.
- Robert Alton Harris: "You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the grim reaper." (This is a misquote taken from the 1991 film Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.)
- Joe Hill: When on November 19, 1915, Deputy Shettler, who led Joe Hill's firing squad, called out the sequence of commands preparatory to firing ("Ready, aim,") Joe Hill shouted, "Fire -- go on and fire!" Just prior to his execution, Hill had written to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, saying, "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah."
- Daryl Holton: "Two words, I do."
- Ned Kelly: Allegedly, "Such is life."
- Timothy McVeigh: Convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh chose "Invictus" (Latin for "unconquered"), an 1875 poem by the British poet William Ernest Henley, as the final statement prior to his execution.
- Harry Morant, to his firing squad: "Shoot straight, you bastards. Don't make a mess of it!"
- As Sir Thomas More climbed a rickety scaffold where he would be executed, he said to his executioner: "I pray you, Mr. Lieutenant, see me safe up; and for my coming down, let me shift for myself."
- At his public execution, the murderer William Palmer is said to have looked at the trapdoor on the gallows and asked the hangman, "Are you sure it's safe?"
- Ronald Clark O'Bryan: "What is about to transpire in a few moments is wrong! However, we as human beings do make mistakes and errors. This execution is one of those wrongs yet doesn’t mean our whole system of justice is wrong. Therefore, I would forgive all who have taken part in any way in my death. Also, to anyone I have offended in any way during my 39 years, I pray and ask your forgiveness, just as I forgive anyone who offended me in any way. And I pray and ask God’s forgiveness for all of us respectively as human beings. To my loved ones, I extend my undying love. To those close to me, know in your hearts I love you one and all. God bless you all and may God’s best blessings be always yours. Ronald C. O’Bryan. P.S. During my time here, I have been treated well by all T.D.C. personnel."
- Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. "Let us dispatch", he said to his executioner. "At this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear." After he was allowed to see the axe that would behead him, he mused: "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries." According to many biographers – Raleigh Trevelyan in his book Sir Walter Raleigh (2002) for instance – Sir Walter's final words (as he lay ready for the axe to fall) were: "Strike, man, strike!"
- James W. Rodgers: (Facing a firing squad) "I done told you my last request ... a bulletproof vest."
- Madame Roland: "O Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom!" ("Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!")
- Ronald Ryan: to the hangman "God bless you, please make it quick"
- John William Rook: "Freedom. Freedom at last, man."
- John Thanos: "Adios."
- William Tyndale, before being strangled and burned at the stake: "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."
- "Last words on Death Row". Cable News Network. 31 December 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- Hughes, Robert. "The Fatal Shore." Vintage Books. New York. 1986. Page 196.
- McShane, Larry (24 April 1992). "Last Words of Those Executed Express Variety of Emotions". Daily News. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- Boyle, Andrew (1977). The Riddle of Erskine Childers. London: Hutchinson. p. 25. ISBN 0-09-128490-2.
- Baumgartner, Frank R; De Boef, Suzanna L; Buydstun, Amber E (14 January 2008). The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence. Cambridge University Press. p. 85. ISBN 1139469207. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/56996193?searchTerm=charles deen&searchLimits=
- Ward, Laura. Famous Last Words: The Ultimate Collection of Finales and Farewells. p. 58.
- "Movie, Documentary Could Be Adapted From Book By Gacy's Lawyer". CBS. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2011-12-21.
- "Offender Information (Gentry, Kenneth)". Death Row Information. Texas State Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
- Spangler, Jerry (28 August 1987). "Selby Pays for 1974 Hi-Fi Murders: Injections painlessly end life of killer by 1:12 a.m.". The Deseret News. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
- Pierrepoint, Albert (1974). Executioner. Harrap. ISBN 0-245-52070-8.
- "AUSCHWITZ: Inside The Nazi State Corruption: Episode 4". PBS.org. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
- "Nazi She-Devils". Mirror. 21 November 2005. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
- Woods, Grant (14 January 2008). "Reflections on death in the gas chamber". Arizona Republic.
- Joe Hickerson (December 2, 2010). "Joe's Last Will". Labor Notes. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- BBC - h2g2 - Joe Hill - Murderer or Martyr?
- Zinn,Howard A People's History of the United States p. 335.
- Barry, Dan (16 September 2007). "Death in the Chair, Step by Remorseless Step". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- Munro, Peter (5 February 2012). "Famous last words: a story of remorse and gallows humour". The Age (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- Catherine Quayle (2001-06-11). "Execution of an American Terrorist". Court TV.
- Rita Cosby (2001-06-12). "Timothy McVeigh Put to Death for Oklahoma City Bombings". FOX News. Retrieved 2008-04-15.
- Shapiro, Fred R., ed. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. 536. ISBN 978-0-300-10798-2. Retrieved 16 November 2009.
- Witticisms Of 9 Condemned Criminals at Canongate Press
- "Offender Information (O'Bryan, Ronald Clark)". Death Row Information. Texas State Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- "National Affairs". Newsweek 61 (1). January 7, 1963. p. 34. Retrieved December 19, 2010. "Usually, by choice, the doomed man is strapped into a scarred old chair facing the firing-squad enclosure 23 feet away. His head is hooded, and a white cloth heart, trimmed in red, is pinned to his chest. Precisely at sunup, five .30-30 rifles-one loaded with a blank—do the job. Utah's unique tradition has its own gallows humor. Just before he was shot in 1960 for killing a uranium miner, James W. Rodgers made a last request: a bulletproof vest"
- McShane, Larry (24 April 1992). "Last Words of Those Executed Express Variety of Emotions". Daily News. Retrieved 29 July 2012. "[alternately reported as] "O, Liberty! How they have duped you."
- Small, Glenn (17 May 1994). "Unrepentant Thanos put to death". The Blatimore Sun. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
- John Foxe, Actes and Monuments (1570), VIII.1229 (Foxe's Book of Martyrs Variorum Edition Online).