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Texas kills fancy last meal requests on death row

Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulpher Springs, Texas,shown in a picture released by the authorities Ju..
Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulpher Springs, Texas,shown in a picture released by the authorities Ju..

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The Texas prison system on Thursday abolished the time-honored tradition of offering an opulent last meal to condemned inmates before their executions, saying they would get standard prison fare instead.

"Enough is enough," state Senator John Whitmire wrote on Thursday to prison officials, prompting the move. "It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege. It's a privilege which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim."

The letter was in apparent response to the dinner requested, but not eaten, by white supremacist Lawrence Brewer before he was put to death on Wednesday night for a notorious 1998 killing in which James Byrd Jr., a black man, was dragged behind a truck for several miles.

Brewer requested an elaborate meal that included a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a meat-lover's pizza, a big bowl of okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecue, a half a loaf of bread, peanut butter fudge, a pint of ice cream and two chicken-fried steaks.

When it arrived around 4 p.m. at Brewer's cell, he declined it all, telling prison officials he was not hungry.

Whitmire, who chairs the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, threatened legislation if the prison system did not end the practice, which rarely results in the inmate getting exactly what is requested anyway.

Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, replied that Whitmire's concerns were valid and the practice would halt immediately.

The prisoners will be served "the same meal served to other offenders," Livingston's statement said.

Most states that have the death penalty allow last-meal requests, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Some allow the inmate to choose from a menu, others have cost restrictions or say they must be ordered locally.

Anti-death penalty activists were not bothered by the Texas move, saying the tradition always made the prison system look more merciful than it is.

"I am totally opposed to capital punishment, but I certainly don't understand the logic of a last meal, and the way it's turned into such a show," said Jim Harrington, who heads the Texas Civil Rights Project, .

Texas executes four times more inmates than the rest of the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and last meals ordered by inmates have run the gamut.

James Edward Smith, who was executed in Texas in 1990, requested "a lump of dirt." Odell Barnes, executed in 2000, requested "justice, equality and world peace."

(Editing by Karen Brooks, Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)

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