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Unlike Texas, Florida has no plans to end last meals for death row inmates

Last week, Texas officials decided to get rid of the age-old tradition of giving death row inmates a special last meal before their executions.

The decision was made after a death row inmate ordered a feast — including a triple bacon cheeseburger, two chicken-fried steaks, a pint of ice cream, an omelet, fried okra and ketchup, three fajitas and a meat-lover's pizza — and didn't eat any of it before he was executed Sept. 21.

Could last meals ever end here in Florida? Not likely, state officials say.

Even Gov. Rick Scott, who is a fan of some Texas policies, seems cool to the idea of ending last meals.

Florida already has a $40 cap on the cost of last meals, he said, which would prevent a situation like what happened in Texas.

"It's been done for as long as anyone can remember," said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. "There are no plans at this point to make changes."

• • •

It's unclear when the practice of giving special last meals to death row inmates started.

"The history is very gray at best," said Bill Hayes, 68, a capital punishment historian who lives in Leesburg. "You have people who say that it goes back to the Last Supper. You have people who say that it goes back to the Greeks . . . even to a certain degree it's something that goes back to the Egyptians."

Since the 1980s, Hayes has kept a database of every execution in the nation, recording everything from prisoners' last words to their last meals.

There's very little record of last meals prior to the 1900s in the United States, he said.

These days, however, there are whole websites dedicated to the subject. A former Texas prison cook even wrote a book about preparing them.

Last meals have ranged from relatively mundane to strange and elaborate, Hayes said.

The feast ordered by Texas white supremacist Lawrence Brewer, who was executed Sept. 21 for the 1998 dragging death of a black man, infuriated state officials — particularly when he didn't eat a bite.

Officials then announced they were ending the tradition for good.

Hayes said most last meals aren't like that.

He said most states with the death penalty limit the type or cost of the last meal.

"They're not talking about going to a restaurant and buying a gourmet meal," he said. "I don't see a problem with (last meals)."

On Wednesday, convicted Coral Gables cop killer Manual Valle became the first person executed under Scott's administration.

According to prison officials, Valle requested fried chicken breast, white rice, garlic toast, a Coca-Cola and peach cobbler for this last meal.

He ate most of it.

• • •

Officials aren't sure how long Florida has granted death row inmates the option of a special last meal. The tradition is included in the state's official lethal injection procedure.

In addition to the $40 cap, inmates must choose something that is available locally and can be prepared at the prison.

"The food service director always works to meet the request of the inmate," Plessinger said.

Plessinger said the last meal serves a dual purpose. It's a final comfort for the condemned inmate, she said, but it also helps prison officials manage what could be a tense few hours before an execution. Inmates also are allowed a last visit with family.

"It is a management tool as well," Plessinger said. "It is a privilege to the inmate. It's something that can be taken away.

"Our foremost objective is a humane, dignified death. The last meal and last visit fits in with that."

Times staff writer Michael C. Bender and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

.Fast facts

Famous last meals

John Spenkelink, first modern execution in Florida

Executed May 25, 1979

Last meal: Two swigs of Jack Daniels

Ted Bundy, serial killer

Executed Jan. 1, 1989, in Florida

Last meal: Shrimp, steak and hushpuppies, eggs with hash browns and coffee. (He did not eat it.)

Danny Rolling, killer of several students in Gainesville

Executed Oct. 25, 2006, in Florida

Last meal: Lobster, butterfly shrimp, baked potato, strawberry cheesecake, tea

Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City bomber

Executed June 11, 2001, in Indiana

Last meal: 2 pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream

Troy Davis, accused cop killer whose execution generated controversy

Executed Sept. 21 in Georgia

Last meal: declined

Aileen Wuornos, female serial killer

Executed Oct. 9, 2002, in Florida

Last meal: Barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes, sliced tomatoes, tea, apple crisp. (She did not eat it.)

John Allen Muhammad, Beltway sniper attacks

Executed Nov. 10, 2009, in Virginia

Last meal: Chicken with red sauce and chocolate cake

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed on espionage charges

Executed June 19, 1953

Last meal: declined and spent their last moments talking together

Sources: Newspaper archives and Bill Hayes, capital punishment historian

Unlike Texas, Florida has no plans to end last meals for death row inmates 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 10:49pm]
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