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A condemned prisoner's last meal is a customary ritual preceding execution. Various countries have various traditions in this regard. The "little glass of rum" is granted to the condemned in historical France in the minutes before execution, but no formal last meal as the condemned learns of their impending execution only on the fatal morning, generally just minutes in advance. In the United States, alcohol is not usually allowed.
In many countries, the prisoner may, within reason, select what the last meal will be.
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.
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-butter fudge 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.
- Adolf Eichmann: World War II German Nazi senior officer and Holocaust mass murder organizer; (German national) Israel 1962 – hanging: declined a special meal, preferring a bottle of Carmel, a dry red Israeli wine. He drank about half of it.
- Mona Fandey: murderer; Malaysia 2001 - hanged at Kajang Prison: declined a last meal; she was instead given a dinner of KFC.
- Saddam Hussein: Iraqi President; Iraq 2006 – hanging: The Times states that "he refused their offers of cigarettes and a last meal of chicken." Other sources state a variety of meal options.
- Ajmal Kasab: terrorist involved in 2008 Mumbai attacks; hanged at Pune's Yerawada jail, 21 November 2012: declined a last meal; he was given a basket of tomatoes and regular jail food.
- John Martin Scripps: serial killer; Singapore 1996 - hanging: a pizza and a cup of hot chocolate.
- Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin: last to be executed in Canada; 1962 - hanging: steak, potatoes, vegetables and pie.
- 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.
- Bruno Richard Hauptmann: Lindbergh Kidnapping and murder; executed in New Jersey in 1936 – electrocution: Celery, olives, chicken, French fries, buttered peas, cherries, and a slice of cake.
- Clarence Ray Allen: murder; executed in California in 2006 – lethal injection: Buffalo steak, Kentucky Fried Chicken, sugar-free pecan pie and sugar-free black walnut ice cream.
- Danny Rolling: The Gainesville Ripper, serial murder; executed in Florida in 2006 – lethal injection: Lobster tail, butterfly shrimp, baked potato, strawberry cheesecake, and sweet tea.
- 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.
- Timothy McVeigh: domestic terrorist/mass murder; Oklahoma, executed in Indiana in 2001 – lethal injection: Two pints of mint chocolate-chip ice cream.
- Velma Barfield: murder, executed in North Carolina in 1984 – lethal injection: declined a special meal, having a bag of Cheez Doodles and a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola instead.
- 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 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.
- Dobie Gillis Williams, executed in Louisiana in 1999: Twelve chocolate bars and some ice cream.
- 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.
- Elijah Page, executed in South Dakota in 2007: Steak, jalapeno poppers with cream sauce, onion rings, a salad with cherry tomatoes, ham chunks, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and blue cheese and ranch dressing, coffee, lemon iced tea, and ice cream.
- 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.
- Frederick Treesh, executed in Ohio in 2013: Steak with mushrooms, eggs, hash browns, cottage cheese, onion rings, deep-fried mushrooms, a hot fudge sundae and sodas.
- Gary Lee Davis, executed in Colorado in 1997: Chocolate and vanilla ice cream cups, shared with the prison superintendent and a manager.
- Gary Michael Heidnik, executed in Pennsylvania in 1999: Two slices of a cheese pizza and two cups of black coffee.
- Gerald Lee Mitchell, executed in Texas in 2001: Assorted bag of Jolly Rancher candies.
- Herbert Smulls, executed in Missouri in 2014: Fried chicken, steak, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, cornbread, a cola, and chocolate cake.
- Ignacio Cuevas, perpetrator of the 1974 Huntsville Prison Siege, executed in Texas in 1991: Chicken dumplings, steamed rice, sliced bread, black-eyes peas, and iced tea.
- James Edward Smith, executed in Texas in 1990: A lump of dirt, which was denied. He settled for a cup of yogurt.
- James Neil Tucker, executed in South Carolina in 2004: Pizza, two BLT sandwiches, and Mountain Dew.
- 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 India Pale Ale, and a pack of cigarettes.
- John Albert Taylor, executed in Utah in 1996: Pizzas "with everything."
- 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.
- Karla Faye Tucker, executed in Texas in 1998: Banana, peach, and garden salad with ranch dressing.
- 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.
- Lowell Lee Andrews, executed in Kansas in 1962: Two fried chickens with sides of mashed potatoes, green beans and Pie a la Mode.
- Mark Dean Schwab, executed in Florida in 2008: Fried eggs (over easy), bacon, sausage links, hash browns, buttered toast, and a quart of chocolate milk.
- Mark Hopkinson, executed in Wyoming in 1992: Pizza, shared with his mother and other family members.
- Odell Barnes, executed in Texas in 2000: "Justice, Equality, World Peace."
- Paul Ezra Rhoades, executed in Idaho in 2011: Hot dogs, sauerkraut, baked beans, veggie sticks, fruit with gelatin and strawberry ice cream cups.
- Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, executed in Kansas in 1965: Shrimp, French fries, garlic bread, ice cream, and strawberries with whipped cream.
- 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.
- Ralph Hudson, executed in New Jersey in 1963: prime rib steak, ice cream and a cigar.
- 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.
- Ronnie Lee Gardner, executed in Utah in 2010: Lobster tail, steak, apple pie, vanilla ice cream, 7 Up, and watching The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
- Stephen Wayne Anderson, executed in California in 2002: Two grilled cheese sandwiches, one pint of cottage cheese, a hominy/corn mixture, one piece of peach pie, one pint of chocolate chip ice cream, and radishes.
- Teresa Lewis, executed in Virginia in 2010: Two fried chicken breasts, sweet peas with butter, a Dr Pepper and German chocolate cake for dessert.
- 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.
- 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 and 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".
- Victor Feguer, executed in Iowa in 1963, requested a single olive with the pit still in it.
- Wesley Baker, executed in Maryland in 2005: Breaded fish, pasta marinara, green beans, orange fruit punch, bread, and milk (this was what was on the prison menu that day).
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