Opinion: No more Last Supper (death penalty)

POSTED: 09/26/11 7:14 PM

Since the United States re-introduced the death penalty in 1976, the country had executed 1,266 convicted murderers. Sixteen states do not have the death penalty and of the other 34, Texas is the absolute champ: it executed 473 convicts – 37 percent of the total. Remarkably, (according to one web site clarkprosecutor.org), 57 percent of these convicts were whites, and 34 percent where blacks. The Death Penalty Information Center confirms this stat: 56 percent are whites, 35 percent are blacks, 7 percent are Latinos and the remaining 2 percent are of other ethnic origin.

The most used method for executions these days is lethal injections. The electric chair was last used on March 18 of last year, when Virginia executed Paul Warner Powell. Believe it or not, the gas chamber – a nifty invention of the Nazis – was still used by Arizona on March 3, 1999 to do away with Walter Legrand. Hanging is going out of fashion – the last time this happened was on January 25, 1996 in the state of Delaware; Billy Baily was on the receiving end of this treatment. Three convicts were executed by a firing squad, a method the Mormon state of Utah most recently used on January 18 of last year for the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner.

St. Maarten does not have the death penalty, but the discussion about the subject could ignite if the current spike in murders continues. It is not something any decent society should want to adapt and it also not something that contributes anything to a solution. The only sure thing with the death penalty is that executed convicts won’t ever commit a crime again. On the downside, wrongly executed convicts do not get a second chance. Anecdotal evidence from the United States also suggests that the death penalty does not have an effect on the crime rate. Several states that do not have the death penalty, have lower murder rates that states that do.

One thing inmates on death row in the United States were entitled to before their walk to the execution chamber is their Last Supper. There’s nothing religious about it – though may want to argue this point. It seemed like a decent thing to do for someone who is about to die; but in texas, that custom was laid to rest this week.

The Last Supper was an a la carte menu for the condemned; they could order anything they wanted. That’s exactly what Lawrence Russell Brewer did this week.

Brewer, 44, was not a pleasant man: he was a white supremacist. In June 1998 he tied 49-year old James Byrd Jr. with a logging chain behind his truck and dragged the black man over a bumpy asphalt road to his death.

Before he walked to his destiny on Thursday, Brewer ordered a huge meal: two chicken steaks with gravy and onions, a three-layer cheese and bacon burger, a cheese omelet with mince meat, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, fried okras and ketchup, half a kilo of grilled meat with a half loaf of white bread, three fajitas, a pizza, a container of ice cream, peanut butter fudge with nuts and three beers.

When the food arrived he decided that he was not hungry after all, or maybe he lost his appetite considering what lay ahead of him.

This enraged Texas Senator John Whitmire. That Whitmire happens to be white is not that interesting; at least this does not explain why he was so upset about this by now infamous Last Supper.

The good senator is also a member of the Texas Sunset Commission which is responsible for reviewing state agencies to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in state government. It is fair to say that Whitmire hates wasteful behavior – we could do with a guy like that in St. Maarten.

His anger over Brewer’s last act resulted in a very angry letter to prison authorities. “It is not about the money,” he wrote, but about the principle. He did not give his victim a chance to order a Last Supper either.”

Prison-director Brad Livingston reacted swiftly and told the senator that he has ditched the custom immediately. “People who are executed will get from now on exactly the same food as other prisoners.”

We’re not sure how this is going to affect the atmosphere on death row. After all, the Last Supper was traditionally the final highlight of an otherwise dreary life. We feel for Whitmire’s argument, but at the same time the measure seems to take away some decency from the otherwise gruesome practice of state-licensed killings.

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